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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #175

"Phoenix!
November 1983

In a Nutshell
Mastermind is defeated, and Cyclops marries Madelyne. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Pencilers: Paul Smith (pp 1-29) and John Romita, Jr. (pp 30-38) 
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein 
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men are shocked when a Phoenix firebird appears in the sky over the mansion, followed by a falling Cyclops. Rogue catches him, and the X-Men convene in Professor Xavier's study. When Xavier attempts to use Cerebro to search for Phoenix, it backfires, knocking him out. As Nightcrawler takes him to the med-lab, the X-Men realize someone has tampered with Cerebro just as Dark Phoenix suddenly emerges from Cyclops. She easily dispatches the team, then flies off, vowing to return. The X-Men attempt to warn the Starjammers, but establish communication just as Dark Phoenix destroys the ship. They next try to contact the Avengers, but the connection is severed when Dark Phoenix destroys Manhattan. Meanwhile, an unconscious Cyclops has an out-of-body experience, and sees a vision of his mother urging him to wake up. He awakens in the med-lab, and thinking over the inconsistencies in Dark Phoenix's actions, realizes what's really going on. Stopping briefly to transfer control of the Danger Room to a handheld device in order to give him an advantage over the X-Men's real foe, finds the X-Men, but they attack him, believing him to be Dark Phoenix.


Cyclops fights them off before getting tackled by Kitty, who ends up phasing the pair into the Danger Room.
Inside, Cyclops uses the Danger Room to put some distance between himself and the rest of the X-Men. At the same time, Madelyne, dressed as Dark Phoenix, comes face to face with Mastermind, who explains that he's spent the last several months convincing the X-Men that Madelyne is Phoenix reincarnated, taking his revenge on them thus by forcing them to kill an innocent. Back in the Danger Room, Cyclops is able to knock out Rogue and takes her to the medlab. There, he awakens her and forces her to absorb Xavier's telepathy so she can read his mind and pierce Mastermind's illusions. When the rest of the X-Men rush in, she's able to show them the truth, at which point Dark Phoenix appears behind them. Calling out the illusion as false, Cyclops is shot, making the X-Men realize Mastermind is in the room with them. Storm calls up a violent tempest that nearly drowns everyone and leaves the room flooded, with Mastermind unconscious. Later, Cyclops visits Jean's grave and says goodbye, before returning to the mansion for his wedding with Madelyne.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are married as of this issue. Though no official declaration is made, Cyclops is considered to have left the X-Men again as of this issue; he'll pop up occasionally in the years ahead (including headlining next issue), but it won't be until the early 90s, just before Claremont's departure from the book, that he'll be a regularly-featured member of the X-Men again.


This is Paul Smith's final regular issue of X-Men; he'll return to pencil the two issue X-Men/Alpha Flight limited series, as well as a couple fill-in issues in the mid-90s, but this issue more or less marks the end of his involvement with the title. As mentioned a few weeks ago, his departure following this issue was apparently planned from the beginning of his tenure as regular artist, though I've never read anything suggesting why.

The final nine pages of this issue are penciled by John Romita Jr., son of Marvel legend John Romita, who comes aboard to replace Smith as the series' new regular penciller, making this issue also the start of what will be a lengthy run on the book by Romita Jr. I've also never heard any explanation as to why Romita Jr. was asked to finish the issue, whether Smith fell behind, Marvel wanted to ease the transition to a new artist, or something else. 

Mastermind reveals his plan of convincing the X-Men that Madelyne is Phoenix reborn in order to trick them into killing an innocent women. It's also made clear that he was the one impersonating the Yakuza oyabun in issues #172 and #173. It is also worth noting that he says he intended to use whomever Scott was dating at the time in his plan; Madelyne's resemblance to Jean just made things easier for him.


Mentioned in previous issues, we see Cyclops' grandparents for the first time.


This issue celebrates the 20th Anniversary (more or less) of the publication of first issue of X-Men. It is double-sized and originally cost $1.00, the first regular issue of X-Men to do so.

I generally try to avoid quoting directly from Wikipedia, particularly if their source isn't traceable, but I've been unable to track down a better and/or more detailed quote from Claremont regarding his intentions for Madelyne Pryor than what appears on her Wikipedia page, so here it is, with the caveat that it's from Wikipedia and un-sourced, so take that for what its worth. 

"The original Madelyne storyline was that, at its simplest level, she was that one in a million shot that just happened to look like Jean Grey, [a.k.a. the first Phoenix]! And the relationship was summed up by the moment when Scott says: "Are you Jean?" And she punches him! That was in Uncanny X-Men #174. Because her whole desire was to be deeply loved for herself not to be loved as the evocation of her boyfriend's dead romantic lover and sweetheart.

I mean, it's a classical theme. You can go back to a whole host of 1930s films, 1940s, Hitchcock films—but it all got invalidated by the resurrection of Jean Grey in X-Factor #1. The original plotline was that Scott marries Madelyne, they have their child, they go off to Alaska, he goes to work for his grandparents, he retires from the X-Men. He's a reserve member. He's available for emergencies. He comes back on special occasions, for special fights, but he has a life. He has grown up. He has grown out of the monastery; he is in the real world now. He has a child. He has maybe more than one child. It's a metaphor for us all. We all grow up. We all move on.

Scott was going to move on. Jean was dead get on with your life. And it was [supposed] to be a happy ending. They lived happily ever after, and it was to create the impression that maybe if you came back in ten years, other X-Men would have grown up and out, too. Would Kitty stay with the team forever? Would Nightcrawler? Would any of them? Because that way we could evolve them into new directions, we could bring in new characters. There would be an ongoing sense of renewal, and growth and change in a positive sense.

Then, unfortunately, Jean was resurrected, Scott dumps his wife and kid and goes back to the old girlfriend. So it not only destroys Scott's character as a hero and as a decent human being it creates an untenable structural situation: what do we do with Madelyne and the kid? ... So ultimately the resolution was: turn her into the Goblin Queen and kill her off."

A Work in Progress
Storm notes that Rogue is not nearly as invulnerable as she thinks she is.

Kurt is once again serving as the team's medic.


Cyclops receives a vision of his deceased mother, telling him its not his time to die yet, one of the few depictions of his mother.


This issue also does a nice job of showing off the newly improved Danger Room, following its incorporation of Shi'ar technology, and providing a lesson (somewhat) in how it manages to simulate environments larger than itself.


Storm notes that calling upon violent weather has become easier for her recently.

Scott and Maddy's wedding is attended by a variety of X-Men regulars, including Beast, Iceman, Banshee and Moira.


While Havok is Scott's best man, Kitty serves as Madelyne's Maid-of-Honor, suggesting Madelyne has few friends or family members, and that Kitty's Mary Sue-ism extends even to weddings.


As Maddy walks down the aisle, her hair is miscolored as blonde, which, considering the character in question, is kind of a big deal. It's also unclear who the man walking her down the aisle is, given we've never heard anything about her family.


For whatever reason, there's a couple notable typos in this issue. Storm refers to herself as "leader X-Men", missing the "of", and later "resurrected" is spelled "resurrectet".

I Love the 80s
Kitty has yet another new costume, this one seemingly taking it's inspiration from 80s exercise clothes, complete with a headband.


Claremontisms
As the issue opens, the X-Men are working to remove a tree from the grounds of the mansion.


As Cyclops revives Madelyne following Storm's tempest, they exchange the "Hi/Hi yourself" dialogue in a scene which mirrors the end of issue #136.


Young Love
As Cyclops prepares to marry Madelyne, he says visits Jean's grave to say goodbye, a moment that Claremont clearly intended to serve as the finale to the Scott/Jean romance.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops takes on the entire team in this issue, managing to hold his own and expose Mastermind in the process. 


The Best There is at What He Does 
Cyclops is able to (briefly) knock out Wolverine via a short range optic blast to the head.


For Sale
This issue features a pair of Return of the Jedi ads, one for model kits, another for the Jedi video game. 


 
It's in the Mail
The letters in this issue are answered by Professor X. In one response, he mentions a computer project Kitty is working on with a young man named Douglas Walsh; this is the first reference to the character who will become Doug Ramsey (who, in his first appearance, will be shown to be working on a computer project with Kitty). 

Teebore's Take
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the creation of the X-Men, this issue contains several significant endings and beginnings. We reach the end of the all-too-short Claremont/Smith collaboration, as Smith turns in one last, expertly-executed action issue. We welcome aboard new series artist John Romita Jr., who has some pretty big shoes to fill. The simmering Madelyne/Phoenix plot comes to a head as Mastermind's plan stands revealed, a plot that, appropriately enough for the 20th anniversary issue, serves as a sequel to the book's biggest and most well-regarded story. Madelyne's identity is confirmed (for good and bad) once and for all (or for awhile, at least). And this issue also serves as Cyclops' swan song, the end of his regular involvement in the book for the remainder of Claremont's run. He'll be back, sometimes for extended periods, but always in the capacity of a returning guest star. Marrying Madelyne is, as far as Claremont is concerned, Cyclops' happy ending.

It's that last item that makes this arguably my single favorite issue of X-Men. Claremont and Smith send Cyclops out on a high note, putting him up against the entire team, all of whom believe him to be their greatest foe. Armed only with his optic blast, years of training and a keen tactical mind (plus a little help from the Danger Room), he single-handedly takes on the X-Men and wins. He not only defeats them but manages to expose the true villain along the way. For diehard Cyclops fans like myself, this issue is often Exhibit A in the case of "Why Cyclops is Cool". Claremont, throughout his entire run, has shown an affinity for Cyclops. Fitting, then, that he gives one of his favorite characters a long-overdue happy ending and sends him out on a high note, all in one fantastic issue.  

Next Issue 
Tomorrow, the New Mutants continue their Nova Roman adventure in New Mutants #9, and next week, things get a little impossible in X-Men Annual #7.

36 comments:

  1. This is the first issue i remember buying. I don't know how we got this issue, because it would've had to have been after '83, since we would've been two, but this issue started our collection.
    For some reason i always really enjoyed Wolverine's "Cripes!" When he suddenly finds himself off a cliff in the danger room.

    Coming up - Giant Squid!!

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  2. I've always thought, especially for an anniversary issue -- but just in general anyway, that this issue has a very lackluster cover. There's a lot going on, but it's a lot of smaller figures scattered around the cover with no centralized image to draw you in. And we're looking at the backs of half the X-Men, on top of that! It's far and away Smith's weakest cover, in my opinion.

    But the story beneath the cover is another matter entirely! I can't sum the issue up any better than your final paragraph, so I won't try. I totally agree with your assessment of Cyclops. This issue really is his greatest moment.

    "Cyclops is considered to have left the X-Men again as of this issue..."

    I wonder if anyone intended that at this particular point? As you say, there's no mention made that he won't be coming back. As far as we know, the plan might've been to send him off on his honeymoon and then bring him back to the team again. His head even stays in the corner box (with a few omissions) for the next two years!! I wonder exactly when Claremont decided to retire Cyclops for real.

    "Mentioned in previous issues, we see Cyclops' grandparents for the first time."

    And of course Corsair is wearing his headband to the wedding. We've already seen him walk around Manhattan in his full uniform, so this isn't exactly unusual behavior for the character -- but it's still really, really weird.

    "...I've been unable to track down a better and/or more detailed quote from Claremont regarding his intentions for Madelyne Pryor..."

    I know I've read that whole quote someplace, and I don't think it was Wikipedia. I'm not sure what the source is, though. Maybe an issue of Wizard or something.

    Anyway, I see what Claremont's getting at. As I've noted before, I don't think this sort of thing works in a serialized, ongoing format. Sooner or later the characters that are written out have to come back, whether it's because a new writer wants to play with them or just because of an editorial order. So one way or another, whether Claremont liked it or not, Cyclops was going to return to superheroics and to the X-Men. It's unfortunate that it happened the way it did, but I don't think he could realistically believe it wouldn't happen. All he had to do was look over at Iceman and Angel, who he'd written out of the X-Men but who remained headlining characters in other series during that time.

    Some characters' retirements may last for longer than others (see Banshee), but sooner or later they all come back.

    "It's also unclear who the man walking her down the aisle is, given we've never heard anything about her family...."

    It's obviously Mr. Sinister in diguise. I'm surprised the 90's X-books never got around to revealing this.

    "Cyclops takes on the entire team in this issue, managing to hold his own and expose Mastermind in the process."

    As noted above -- greatest Cyclops issue ever. I love that he is able to do this. And I like that he "predicts" where Nightcrawler will teleport just as he did in the mock fight during the Proteus storyline.

    "And this issue also serves as Cyclops' swan song..."

    I really think of next issue this way. It even ends with Cyclops and Madelyne flying into the sunset, doesn't it?

    Sarah -- "For some reason i always really enjoyed Wolverine's "Cripes!" When he suddenly finds himself off a cliff in the danger room."

    Me too! It's such an un-Wolverine thing to say, and it always gets a chuckle from me.

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  3. This issue is fantastic -- like the entire Claremont-Smith run. (I haven't been posting lately because I feel like "THIS IS EXCELLENT" is a pretty pointless comment every week.) So, let me address some specific things:

    I generally try to avoid quoting directly from Wikipedia, particularly if their source isn't traceable, but I've been unable to track down a better and/or more detailed quote from Claremont regarding his intentions for Madelyne Pryor than what appears on her Wikipedia page, so here it is, with the caveat that it's from Wikipedia and un-sourced, so take that for what its worth.

    It's actually a fan interview from the 90s. It's been widely reproduced and you may sometimes encounter the interviewers in comments sections of other comics blogs. You can read the interview in full here:

    http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?153546-Chris-Claremont-Interview-from-1992

    It is from this interview that many of the of the "What if Claremont had stayed on?" rumors were born -- he would have killed Wolverine, he would have revealed that Shadow King wasn't defeated and brought him back for an even bigger showdown, he would have killed the Professor, he would have revealed that Mr. Sinister was a childhood friend from Scott's past, he would have fully reformed Magneto and had him join the team, etc. etc.

    These rumors have floated around the internet for years largely because of this interview. Some of these ideas were actually printed as part of Claremont's "X-Men Forever."

    @Matt: And of course Corsair is wearing his headband to the wedding.

    God, I think the exact same thing every time I read this issue...

    @Matt: It's obviously Mr. Sinister in diguise. I'm surprised the 90's X-books never got around to revealing this.

    Oh my. This is a horrible idea -- and you're totally right that this is something that would have made into the 90s...

    But really -- if Claremont was going for the whole "Maddie is a real person who just happens to look like Jean" thing -- then her whole wedding party should have been random people. No Kitty-as-maid-of-honor crap, just a random person.

    Also -- maybe I'm being a stickler for detail here -- it's these two panels (random guy and Kitty in the wedding party) and the previous issue that make the "Maddie is a real person who just happens to look like Jean" thing really awful to me. These two have fallen so in love that they're getting engaged and married, but Madelyne won't talk about her life before the plane crash that just happened on the day Jean Grey died? She has no traceable history before then? (This seems like a big f-ing deal considering Xavier's connections to the government and other resources, like telepathy and advanced alien technology.) She has no friends to stand alongside her at the wedding? But there's someone to walk her down the aisle, even though she won't talk to Scott about her life pre-crash? What the F?

    It just makes no sense.

    (End Madelyne Pryor rant.)

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  4. What did Paul Smith work on after this? I think I recall he had a run on Dr. Strange, but I doubt that lasted long.

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  5. I remember not enjoying Paul Smith's brief return in the 90s when I read it as a kid at the time. I re-read them recently, and while it's not as good as his stuff this run, it's still a ton better than a lot of the art at the time. It helps that it's paired with one of Fabian Nicieza's best plots.

    Not much more to be said about this issue other than what everyone else has said: It's great. This is kind of the end for me until issue #200 as I think the title gets way too interconnected with New Mutants and various crossovers coming up. I do like JRjr's art though.

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  6. I had a feeling that you'd be particularly fond of Cyclops' turn as the master tactician who must convince and save everyone else, Teebore. Not that I'm against it myself — although I had a little trouble with the Danger Room. Maybe I haven't proclaimed as loudly and often as you, but I really like the guy and the way he plows through the team by knowing them so well totally rocks.

    A bunch o' eXtra thoughts that don't fit as replies below:

    Wouldn't it have been an awesome fake-out if they'd put Phoenix's head in the cover's corner box for this issue?

    Kitty: "This is crazy! The safety interlocks have been disengaged!"

    "Nobody get distracted and think about Limbo!"

    Maybe the reader would buy that Lilandra and the Starjammers were out just like that, but once it's shown that Cap and Manhattan have been consumed by Phoenix it's obvious that something fishy is going on. The plot turns then anyway, so it's not like we're supposed to keep believing the ruse even if we'd completely been snookered until then. Still, I found it a little odd that there wasn't even a page before things jumped from hellacious but still possible to entirely implausible (for the reader, again, not the X-Men).

    That page of Cyclops going to the light is great work.

    Smith just renders such fantastic body language — that pose of Cyclops leaving the infirmary doorway is mesmerizing to me.

    I just realized that Cyclops sort-of beats Mastermind at his own game, illusion for illusion.

    What primarily bugs me about the Danger Room's combo of actual mechanisms and holograms is that unless its floor actually gave way the characters wouldn't just fall (the way they would if Mastermind were making them believe that they were) simply because the illusion of them being in midair came about. And I kind-of still don't get how you can keep flying and not hit a wall; on the ground or climbing, sure, you'd keep going, treadmills yadda yadda yadda, but flying, I don't think so. Plus, I can't quite suspend my disbelief that it only takes, as Cyclops says, a touch of a button to enact these intricate changes.

    I apologize to the John Romita Jr. fans amongst us, but for me, just like that, the art goes from the sublime to the unfortunate. His later work, such as Amazing Spider-Man as inked by Al Williamson, has a certain appeal to me even if I'm still not that fond of some of his quirks and crutches, but here it's terribly uneven at best; mostly, to my eyes, it's just ugly, although there are the occasional nice compositions — like the "open" panel of Cyclops seeing the face-down Madelyne and most of the page after that, even as the actual rendering still leaves a lot to be desired.

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  7. I've also never heard any explanation as to why Romita Jr. was asked to finish the issue, whether Smith fell behind, Marvel wanted to ease the transition to a new artist, or something else.

    Another possibility that jumps to mind beyond those, especially given that Smith had this set run and departure date in advance, is that he was only contracted for and/or willing to do roughly a regular issue's worth of work on #175. I suspect it was just more a matter of time and transition; at the very least, however, I'd have liked the switchover to occur in a less random spot (not that any one leaps to mind).

    he says he intended to use whomever Scott was dating at the time in his plan

    That line of dialogue stuck out like a sore thumb of exposition phrased just a little too awkwardly. "I'd planned to use whomever was Scott's girl friend" is Claremont talking in the office. "I'd planned to use whomever Scott was dating" is what a person would actually say, casually at least, although in the case of Mastermind as Jason Wyngarde it would probably be more like "I'd planned to use whomever was Scott's latest inamorata" or "I'd planned to use whomever Scott was romantically entangled with".

    I've been unable to track down a better and/or more detailed quote from Claremont regarding his intentions for Madelyne Pryor

    I wonder why that quote sounds familiar. Either I've read it on that very page, which is possible — I've chased some nagging questions down that rabbit hole before as this re-read jogs my memory or my curiosity — or it's in a print interview that I've read, although in that case it would be at least 12 years old in my head. However, I'm determined to see what Amazing Heroes, Comics Interview, and Comics Feature material on X-Men I can easily dig up for you unless you tell me again that I shouldn't bother. I shan't try too hard and there are no promises, but a few pieces come to mind, and scanning them to E-mail shouldn't be too big a hassle.

    Kurt is once again serving as the team's medic.

    That reminds me that I forgot to jump back into that discussion from last week. Maybe I still will unless it gets revived here, but the short version is that I'm fine with Kurt being a mostly well-adjusted jack-of-all-trades and I don't feel by any means that his character is only defined through him filling in whatever handy expertise the team needs.

    As Maddy walks down the aisle, her hair is miscolored as blonde, which, considering the character in question, is kind of a big deal.

    We could've saved so much trouble if she'd looked that way when Scott met her. 8^)

    For whatever reason, there's a couple notable typos in this issue. Storm refers to herself as "leader X-Men", missing the "of", and later "resurrected" is spelled "resurrectet".

    There's another word that's missing its last letter entirely, too, an s I think, but I didn't bother making a note.

    Kitty has yet another new costume

    About which the best thing that can be said is that Logan's neckerchief and unbuttoned top in the opening pages gives it a run for the title of oddest outfit in the issue.

    The letters in this issue are answered by Professor X.

    And not once does he say, "I knew you were going to ask that." #MissedOpportunity

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  8. @Matt: I've always thought ... that this issue has a very lackluster cover

    While Smith's art has gotten better since #166, this is something of a lesser version of that. I do like the immediate appeal of the action and the colors, but you're right that the composition isn't quite up to snuff. Plus, I've never cared for that bird-claw energy beam that "Phoenix" is shooting out, and — this happens in a group action shot often, I grant — since all the characters have to be shown using their powers they're not really using them effectively, with Storm just beginning to send out a blast of lightning and Nightcrawler teleporting... somewhere... and Cyclops' force beam just kind-of disappearing into Maddie's tush.

    @Matt: I wonder exactly when Claremont decided to retire Cyclops for real.

    I'd guess it was when somebody pointed out to him that it had been a while and he hadn't brought Cyclops back from his honeymoon yet.

    That joke aside, however, the next I recall seeing him is #201, when he fights Storm for leadership of the team shortly before X-Factor happens, right around my departure from the whole shebang (until Excalibur, anyway).

    @Matt: And of course Corsair is wearing his headband to the wedding. We've already seen him walk around Manhattan in his full uniform, so this isn't exactly unusual behavior for the character -- but it's still really, really weird.

    I could not get over that.

    @Matt: I know I've read that whole quote someplace, and I don't think it was Wikipedia. I'm not sure what the source is, though.

    So I'm not alone there. Could one of us have quoted it — or, given what Michael says later, linked to it — in the comments earlier?

    @Michael: What the F?

    I hear ya.

    @Spithead: What did Paul Smith work on after this?

    You're right that most immediately he did Dr. Strange at Marvel. Later he returned for the 2-part X-Men / Alpha Flight; at DC, he subsequently did the 4-issue Elseworlds mini The Golden Age with James Robinson, then his and Robinson's co-creation Leave It to Chance for Homage. I'm pretty sure that there were stretches between those projects that he wasn't working in comics, however.

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  9. @Sarah: I don't know how we got this issue

    I too recall acquiring this issue early in my collecting days, but have no recollection of exactly how I came about it.

    Coming up - Giant Squid!!

    Heck yeah!

    @Matt: I wonder exactly when Claremont decided to retire Cyclops for real.

    Good question; Blam's probably right in that it's whenever Weezie (or whomever) pointed out he'd been gone for awhile, but maybe he had the idea as early as #176, but never felt like pointing it out within the book because he was planning on bringing him back occasionally, so it wasn't like he was QUITTING quitting.

    So one way or another, whether Claremont liked it or not, Cyclops was going to return to superheroics and to the X-Men. It's unfortunate that it happened the way it did, but I don't think he could realistically believe it wouldn't happen.

    I don't disagree with your assessment, though I'd add that just because we all know retired characters are eventually going to come back for one reason or another doesn't mean writers shouldn't occasionally retires characters for one reason or another (not that you're saying that, but I figured it was worth stating for the record, such as it is.).

    It's obviously Mr. Sinister in diguise. I'm surprised the 90's X-books never got around to revealing this.

    Ha! Me too.

    I really think of next issue this way.

    Yeah, "swan song" really isn't the right term; that does apply more appropriately to next issue. What's a shorter term for "the apex of his badassness?" :)

    @Michael: You can read the interview in full here

    Excellent, thanks! I've actually seen bits and pieces of that interview in various places (mainly the "post-X-Men vol. 2 #3 plans" stuff) but apparently never saw the bit about Madelyne.

    Some of these ideas were actually printed as part of Claremont's "X-Men Forever."

    X-Men Forver had some problems, but it was kinda fun seeing Claremont put some of these ideas into action, and also fun to see how the passage of time led him to tweak some of his plans.

    No Kitty-as-maid-of-honor crap, just a random person.

    Agreed. That's what makes it stick out. I mean, she's being walked down the aisle by someone I'm sure we were just supposed to assume in 1983 was her dad, yet by not just giving her a random maid-of-honor we're reminded of all the bizarre Madelyne identity stuff that the Mastermind reveal can't account for, even before "Inferno" comes around and further alters our understanding of Madelyne's background.

    @Spithead: What did Paul Smith work on after this?

    I think Blam already answered this for you, so I just wanted to say hello, and welcome!

    @Jeff: I remember not enjoying Paul Smith's brief return in the 90s when I read it as a kid at the time

    I don't remember disliking it as much as being shocked that it was the same guy who did these issues. Just seemed worlds apart (though I agree that was one of Nicieza's better stories. I'm still bummed the "who was using the X-Men's Outback base?" plot got dropped.

    I think the title gets way too interconnected with New Mutants and various crossovers coming up.

    Whereas that interconnectedness is what makes me really like this upcoming stretch - more than ever, it feels like we're just reading 22 page snapshots in the lives of these extraordinary characters.

    To each his own, and all that. :)

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  10. @Blam: Wouldn't it have been an awesome fake-out if they'd put Phoenix's head in the cover's corner box for this issue?

    Yes indeed. :)

    "Nobody get distracted and think about Limbo!"

    Haha!

    ...unless its floor actually gave way the characters wouldn't just fall

    I choose to believe it in fact fall away to simulate the effect, though it would have to have fallen pretty far to enable Wolverine and Colossus to fall as far as they did before Rogue and Storm caught them.

    That said, I certainly don't disagree that the logistics of the new, improved, holographic Danger Room are dicey, at best, as are Star Trek's holodecks (though at least there, things aren't complicated, as you mention, by the existence of people who can fly). Generally speaking, I just have to try not to think about it too much. ;)

    ...for me, just like that, the art goes from the sublime to the unfortunate

    Whereas for me, I go, "ah, there's the X-Men I know and love." :)

    (Which isn't entirely true, because I love Smith's work too).

    Though I'll freely admit my appreciation for Romita Jr.'s work comes mainly from his figure work; as a kid, I never had an eye for panel layouts or compositions (and I've only barely developed much of an eye for that stuff in the intervening years). I know enough to say "he's not as good at that as Smith" but not much beyond that.

    Bottom line, I pretty much like Romita Jr.'s art in this run because of the way he draws the X-Men; because I read this run so often as kid/teenager, they look like the X-Men to me, if you know what I mean.

    I'd have liked the switchover to occur in a less random spot (not that any one leaps to mind).

    Ditto. Maybe if they'd held Romita to draw the post-battle wedding sequence (but that probably wouldn't have been enough pages)?

    That line of dialogue stuck out like a sore thumb of exposition phrased just a little too awkwardly.

    Well said.

    I shan't try too hard and there are no promises, but a few pieces come to mind, and scanning them to E-mail shouldn't be too big a hassle.

    I'd be eternally grateful for anything you can find/provide.

    Other than material from the Comic Creators book and some snippets from stuff you've already sent me, I don't have much in the way of outside sources for the upcoming material (and most of what I do have centers on Jean's return). We've moved past the issues the two X-Men Companions covered. Though I did have an epiphany recently and am now trying to get a hold of some old Marvel Age issues one way or the other, on the off chance they might have some interview material I can use (though they are, perhaps not surprisingly, somewhat difficult to track down).

    We could've saved so much trouble if she'd looked that way when Scott met her.

    Ha!

    That joke aside, however, the next I recall seeing him is #201

    He'll be back before then. He's in Secret Wars, of course, and then the X-Men/Alpha Flight series Smith pencils, then he's around for the run-up to #200, including that issue and the Asgardian annuals crossover w/the New Mutants. Probably some others I'm forgetting offhand, too.

    I'm pretty sure that there were stretches between those projects that he wasn't working in comics, however.

    Yeah, the gap between X-Men/Alpha Flight and Golden Age is several years, at least.

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  11. Matt said: "As I've noted before, I don't think this sort of thing works in a serialized, ongoing format. Sooner or later the characters that are written out have to come back, whether it's because a new writer wants to play with them or just because of an editorial order. So one way or another, whether Claremont liked it or not, Cyclops was going to return to superheroics and to the X-Men."


    You’re writing from the perspective of 2012. Readers are now used to the idea that: comics are a business, characters are commodities, change is illusionary and a series will always hit the re-set button. Back in the early ‘Eighties, I don’t think readers were quite so cynical, nor, indeed, were publishers.

    Bear in mind, that Claremont’s run was occurring concurrently with Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Alan Moore’s Captain Britain. So it did seem that Marvel were prepared to take a laisser faire approach to their minor characters.

    In fact, while it is probably hard to believe now, in 1983, it really felt that a something revolutionary was happening to comics; and Chris Claremont’s X-Men were at the vanguard of it. In the issues preceding #175, Marvel had allowed Claremont to establish an entirely new team of X-Men, kill off Thunderbird and Phoenix, cripple Banshee and begin to reform Magneto. From that perspective, Cyclops’ marriage and retirement didn’t look so naive.

    Going off topic: even from a purely cynical viewpoint of cashing-in on the X-Men popularity, X-Factor was a terrible idea. The All New, All Different X-Men had already cherry-picked all of the best elements of the original series – Professor X, the school, Magneto, Juggernaut, etc. X-Factor was left with just the husk – five Silver Age superheroes, who hadn’t been especially popular even in the Silver Age. A West Coast X-Men or X-Men Europe would have been a much stronger premise.

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  12. Blam & Teebore -- Regarding the Danger Room -- it always had trap doors, so I see no reason why they wouldn't still exist. And with Cyclops's "unique inborn talent for spatial geometry", I could see him remembering exactly how to find the spot where the trap door was located.

    Bernard -- "In fact, while it is probably hard to believe now, in 1983, it really felt that a something revolutionary was happening to comics..."

    Oh, I believe it. I've read many a comic from the early 80's and thought to myself, "how did they get away with this??" It's certainly true that corporate ownership of the characters was not as prevalent as is now... but I still think it would have been naive for Claremont to believe he could write Cyclops out of the X-Men for good, with no one else ever using the character.

    Bernard -- "even from a purely cynical viewpoint of cashing-in on the X-Men popularity, X-Factor was a terrible idea."

    But was it? It did work. True, Cyclops and the gang were canceled due to low sales in the Silver Age, but that obviously wasn't a problem with X-Factor. It lasted for 149 issues over about ten years! I think the circumstances around the book's creation were unfortunate, and I think there were some poor premises and stories, at least at first, but Marvel took a gamble that the "X" brand had become strong enough to allow these previously canceled characters to thrive again, and they were right.

    That said, I certainly would've preferred a different premise for X-Factor. "X-Men West" would've been fine. The "new" X-Men are consorting with Magneto and the original five can't stomach this turn of events, so they set up a school of their own elsewhere to show the X-Men how it "should" be done. I know part of X-Factor's mission statement was to train young mutants, but it was wrapped up in that stupid mutant hunters/X-Terminators idea, which I hated. I would've much rather seen them doing it in a more the straightforward way.

    I also would've liked to have seen Havok and Polaris on the team. I've never been sure why Marvel didn't consider that.

    In my dream world, while Claremont was writing his progressive, mohawk Storm/headmaster Magneto versions of the X-Men and New Mutants, John Byrne would have written and drawn X-Factor as a more traditional superhero title. I would've loved to have seen those two competing in the same corner of the Marvel Universe.

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  13. @Bernard the Poet: X-Factor was a terrible idea

    I have a great deal of affection for that series, born mainly of nostalgia (though I do think the Simonson's managed to turn out some better-than-average material), but I don't disagree that the premise was poorly conceived and executed. The whole "mutant hunters" idea was preposterous, and it took Simonson nearly two full years to finally move the book past it, but then there wasn't much of a hook to the book besides "the original X-Men hanging out".

    A premise like what you or Matt suggested, "X-Men West Coast" or with the original X-Men running some kind of school (and not just paying lip service to the idea) would have worked a lot better, initially and in the long run, and could have still involved the vast majority of those characters.

    @Matt: It's certainly true that corporate ownership of the characters was not as prevalent as is now

    I don't disagree with that sentiment, but I'm currently reading Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (which is fantastic, btw, highly-recommended) and one of the things he makes very clear is just how corporate driven the company has always been (I haven't gotten to the Shooter years yet, but even in the 70s, you had the Goodmans and a litany of Marvel's new corporate owners dictating content).

    The difference, I think, is the change in what was considered one of Marvel's standout titles (and thus, the need for corporate to "keep things on track"). Back in the day, that was Amazing Spider-Man, FF, Hulk and Thor, so guys like Englehart and Gerber could get away with a lot of subversive material because no one, on a corporate level, paid attention to their books.

    X-Men in '83 was pretty close to being Marvel's bread and butter book, but not quite, so maybe Claremont was still "under the radar" enough to still chart his own course at that point.

    Heck, even after X-Men becomes a bonafide hit, he was able to do some pretty oddball stuff (like disbanding the team for an extended period) pretty much right up until he quit. Maybe things were different under Shooter and De Falco, re corporate meddling, maybe the spinoff titles helped protect him, or maybe everyone was too afraid of messing with the goose that was laying golden eggs so they didn't do anything to piss Claremont off in the fear he left and sales tanked?

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  14. I also would've liked to have seen Havok and Polaris on the team. I've never been sure why Marvel didn't consider that.

    Well, bear in mind that X-Factor was trading directly off nostalgia for the O5 specifically. Resurrecting Jean and having Scott leave his wife and child wasn't the only regressive thing the title did: Jean was brought back not just as Marvel Girl but without telepathy (something she acquired in Thomas's original run!) and Beast was immediately reverted back to human-looking in #2/#3. Adding Polaris and Havok would probably have been too modern!

    Of course, as it turned out, Simonson would soon take over and then take the title forward in to new ground.

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  15. Issue 175 is a lot of fun. Smith kills it, of course, and Claremont turned in a good script. I'm just not a Romita Jr. fan, so the shift in art is both jarring and kind of sad. I'll try to keep from moaning about it too much in the future.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Madelyne's escort down the aisle was there because either Claremont forgot his earlier reference to Maddy having no family or JR Jr. added him without realizing she didn't have a father.

    I was never a fan of the original X-Men as a team (the individual characters are okay), and the X-Factor/ X-Terminators thing was just stupid. Honestly, I don't think X-Factor ranks with Walt Simonson's best work, either. It has little of the bouncy fun of FF or the epic scope of Thor and Orion.

    Lastly, Corsair's headband is a symbiotic life form. The untold reason why the Venom symbiote turned evil is that Peter Parker wouldn't let it stay a headband permanently.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  16. Matt said...
    I've always thought, especially for an anniversary issue -- but just in general anyway, that this issue has a very lackluster cover.


    And it is one of my all time favorites!

    Michael said...
    (I haven't been posting lately because I feel like "THIS IS EXCELLENT" is a pretty pointless comment every week.)


    Ditto! And I missed commenting on my first, off-the-stands-issue!

    Blam said...
    I apologize to the John Romita Jr. fans amongst us, but for me, just like that, the art goes from the sublime to the unfortunate.


    I agree. In retrospect, this is where I jump off the X-Men train. I don't have an appreciation for Romita and Green's work...and then it seemed, the belts and pouches would arrive....driving the series further away from ANY semblance of "reality", for lack of a better word.

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  17. Just a few comments on Claremont's, er, few comments.

    I've never really taken his "all a coincidence" at face value (nor has Abigail Brady), because to believe it, you just have to assume Claremont is painfully unaware of how stories are supposed to work.

    It's not just the fact that Madelyne looks exactly like Jean Grey, and presumably must sound just like her as well, though that in itself is kind of a problematic story trope. It's fine as a set up; The Man in the Iron Mask and The Prince and the Pauper, to take two obvious examples, are both stories that get going specifically because of a similarity between two characters. That's fine, but it's also very different to introducing the idea in the midst of a long-running series. It's my firm belief that any story gets fifteen minutes or 100 pages (depending on medium) to introduce as much logic-defying craziness as it wants. After that, the rules of probability need to reassert themselves.

    So already, gesturing at Hitchcock films isn't really good enough, any more than Grey's Anatomy could justify an episode about zombies because they're already being used in The Walking Dead. But the real problem here isn't that Maddy looks and sounds just like Jean - already ridiculous enough - but that she almost died on exactly the same day Jean was lost, and apparently has no prior history (no pun intended, though it's hard to believe Claremont didn't intend it himself).

    To try and argue this is also intended to be a coincidence is to argue you have no idea whatsoever as to how to build a story. Abigail noted Maddy's "I'm a mind-reader" comment as well, which doesn't bother me as much as the plane-crash coincidence, but is further evidence that Claremont either changed his mind halfway through, or he never listened to Aristotle explaining how this stuff is supposed to be done.

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  18. Teebore -- "I'm currently reading Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story..."

    This has been on my to-read list for a while now. I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it.

    Teebore -- "Heck, even after X-Men becomes a bonafide hit, he was able to do some pretty oddball stuff..."

    Yes, this has always puzzled me -- Claremont was seemingly able to get away with a lot more than most of his contemporaries in the mid- to late-80's. I assume the answer is, as you posit, that no one wanted to mess with him since his title was raking in the cash.

    I do think it's funny though, that Bob Harras did mess with Claremont, and Claremont did walk, and sales did not tank at all. Claremont himself has even spoken someplace about how he was kind of disappointed that the book didn't go down in flames without him at the helm.

    Abigail -- "Well, bear in mind that X-Factor was trading directly off nostalgia for the O5 specifically."

    Good point. They really did revert all five of them to their earliest archetypes. I never really thought about it that way.

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  19. So it sounds like Teebore and I are the only ones here who like John Romita Jr.? Interesting. I have to say that his first run on the X-Men is probably some of my least-favorite work from him, but I tend to think that's because of some of the awful costumes he designed, and because of Dan Green, who's inking over Romita is too light and scratchy for me (though I think Green looks fine paired with Silvestri later on -- they seem a better match).

    Strangely, when Green inks JR jr. again during his second run on Uncanny the early 90's, that work looks a lot better to me. I don't know if he adjusted his style or what, but he was a much improved fit with Romita at that time.

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  20. @Teebore: Whereas for me, I go, "ah, there's the X-Men I know and love." :)

    I get that, really. Godzilla knows I've gone off enough about my own nostalgia here. And I'm sensitive to the fact that taste is taste, too, so I try not to totally rip into art even when it's what I think is fairly objectively bad. JR Jr.'s stuff just doesn't work for me, especially in this coming run as inked by Dan Green, which is especially a shame coming off of the beauty of Smith & Wiacek; I could easily have sung a different tune if I were experiencing comics and X-Men in particular through this stuff for the first time.

    @Teebore: He'll be back before then.

    Secret Wars
    I should have remembered, but I don't have as solid a grasp of when the other stuff occurred since I've reread not-particularly-favorite stuff rarely in decades. If it's from my early childhood or I just love it, chances are much better that I know it well, but there's a lot of stuff that's sort-of like "the lost years" that I look forward to diving back into. X-Men / Alpha Flight being a follow-up to the Asgardian annuals crossover, I'd actually thought that it maybe came after I'd stopped picking up the main series and thus after #201. Most of the run-up to #200 is a melange of Forge and Rachel in that Hound outfit and Morlocks and Freedom Force that I just try not to think about and be thankful that the BWS issues looked so cool to leave a decent parting taste in the mouth of my mind's eye (complete metaphor fail, I know).

    @Abigail: Jean was brought back not just as Marvel Girl but without telepathy

    I hadn't remembered that — unsurprisingly, I guess, since I only got the first half-dozen or so X-Factors and they've pretty much sat in boxes since that first reading.

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  21. I have to agree with Bernard the Poet, at least in terms of what it felt like to a young teenager with just a few fanzines around and no Internet at the time. Like I said in a past week when we talked about this stuff, Dick Grayson was away at college for much of the '70s, showing up just enough in guest appearances and backup stories (or via Super Friends) to keep merchandising; then he came roaring back in The New Teen Titans, obviously more mature; then he freaking gave up being Robin. This was huge. Teebore's right that corporate oversight has always been a part of the game; heck, the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men came about in large part because of requests for an international team of superheroes that might appeal to overseas markets, and we've talked a couple times about Spider-Woman being created in response to trademark concerns. Yet the new X-Men and Spider-Woman were both quite different from what you'd expect — almost certainly better, longer-lasting properties for it, too.

    X-Factor definitely caused at least as much excitement as skepticism (that for Jean Grey's resurrection) in my small network of comics-reading friends, but the execution left so much to be desired. The early concept of mutant-hunting as a cover story sucked, and the early art was below the level of the pedestrian stuff we're complaining about in New Mutants. Had I only hung on for another few issues, I'd likely have been jazzed to see Walt Simonson come aboard, but Marvel really screwed the launch of the series. When Matt says that X-Factor lasted so long, well, I suspect that the fairly early course-correction in the art had a lot to do with it hanging on for a while, then the complete revamp of the book under fan-fave writer Peter David and kewl artists set it up for new success.

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  22. @Abigail: Beast was immediately reverted back to human-looking in #2/#3

    Not that it doesn't change your overall point, but for what it's worth, I've read that the reason Layton did that was just to make the whole "Mutant Hunters in disguise" thing work better without resorting to having Beast go the old "rubber mask and gloves" routine from his Amazing Adventures days.

    @Mike: I'll try to keep from moaning about it too much in the future.

    In turn, I'll try to keep from raving about it too much. :)

    ...JR Jr. added him without realizing she didn't have a father.

    That makes a lot of sense, especially given his status as incoming artist.

    @Mock: I don't have an appreciation for Romita and Green's work...and then it seemed, the belts and pouches would arrive....driving the series further away from ANY semblance of "reality", for lack of a better word.

    For the most part, I don't think the belts and pouches really show up until Jim Lee comes aboard. Most of the Silvestri/Leonardi stuff post-Romita is pretty clean.

    @SpaceSquid: ...but is further evidence that Claremont either changed his mind halfway through, or he never listened to Aristotle explaining how this stuff is supposed to be done.

    Not to come off as too much of a Claremont-apologist (because I do honestly think he loaded the deck too much in favor of the "there's more to Maddy than coincidence" to then go ahead with "it's all a coincidence"), but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he just got so enamored of the Lookalike/Hitchcockian coincidence angle that it overrode all his better instincts about basic storytelling.

    @Matt: This has been on my to-read list for a while now. I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it.

    It's fantastic! Just last night I read about a meeting Stan Lee had with all the staff writers in 1975 about how they could only present the illusion of change for characters for fear of changing something that would upset potential or existing licensees. Even in '75 they were worried about that!

    ...because of Dan Green, who's inking over Romita is too light and scratchy for me

    That's kind of funny; I've been thinking recently that it might be that I really like Green's inks more than Romita's pencils, since the first issue I really remember loving Romita's art on is #179, which is Green's first. It's something I'm going to watch for in the weeks ahead, because until recently, I never really had a good eye for how an inker can influence a penciler's work (not that I necessarily have a "good" eye for it even now...).

    Strangely, when Green inks JR jr. again during his second run on Uncanny the early 90's, that work looks a lot better to me.

    As much as I do truly enjoy Romita's work in this run, I really love his later, blockier, more exaggerated style.

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  23. @Teebore

    I'm not sure "He really was that stupid" technically counts as apologism, actually, but the point is well taken. I can see how if someone wanted to make coincidence the whole point, they might layer it on with a trowel.

    Even so, it's still a poor choice for an ongoing story. Or so I think, anyway. a life dedicated to probability might be skewing my perspective on all of this.

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  24. @SpaceSquid: I've never really taken his "all a coincidence" at face value (nor has Abigail Brady), because to believe it, you just have to assume Claremont is painfully unaware of how stories are supposed to work.

    While I can't disagree with the general mad hate for the heap of coincidences that involve(d) Maddie Pryor as conceived, I'm kind-of grateful that Claremont at least lets it be called out within the story as unlikely and disconcerting. 1950s-60s Superman was chock full of identical twins just among the criminals and Kandorians who survived Krypton's destruction. And right as this storyline is being resolved in X-Men, over in New Mutants the kids just happen to encounter a girl their age from a hidden city who just happens to be a mutant whose powers just happen to have to do with magma and manifest when she's thrown into, of all things, a lava pit. So there's "You look exactly like my ex-girlfriend" (and the far more egregious "You happen to have survived a plane crash that took place the moment she died"), and then there's "Who needs Cerebro? This is Marvel Comics and we'll just happen upon a collective of mutant motorcyclists at the county fair." One is a trope that we tend to take for granted and the other feels like unfair, unwise, or unaccomplished plotting because it seems to step on what we know is against the odds in real life yet could, after a fashion, actually happen; someone who looks enough like someone else that she could actually be a twin (or a clone) is rare, but there are plenty of actors perfectly cast as siblings or younger/older versions of other actors who aren't actually related.

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  25. @Matt: They really did revert all five of them to their earliest archetypes.

    Yeah. When I think about that, it's amazing that John Byrne wasn't involved (other than with the set up of "She's alive!").

    @Matt: and because of Dan Green, who's inking over Romita is too light and scratchy for me

    I remember blaming Dan Green even at the time, because while I wasn't a particular fan of JR Jr.'s early Amazing Spider-Man I liked his Uncanny X-Men a lot less. Romita was either penciling so vaguely that Green's own style came through unflatteringly or was penciling so vaguely and Green was adding so little that it reflected poorly on said penciling. Either way, of course, Romita's at fault as well (if you do indeed find blame/fault to be appropriate). I'm a huge fan of the kind of open, uncluttered style that Smith & Wiacek were knocking out of the park, but to my eye Romita & Green struck out with a similar attempt that was loose to the point of sloppy — which doesn't mean that they didn't sweat every stroke and try their best, nor that nobody liked it.

    Years later as I caught up on some stuff that I missed in the early-mid 2000s while unable to buy comics, I was amazed at how poor Ron Garney's pencils looked on the JLA arc he did written by Kurt Busiek after being impressed by his growth on Captain America and blown away by his Silver Surfer work a bit later. His gorgeous Surfer stuff was inked by Bob Wiacek. JLA was inked by Dan Green.

    @Teebore: I've been thinking recently that it might be that I really like Green's inks more than Romita's pencils

    ...

    Let's all play a little game called Agree to Disagree! 8^)

    @Teebore: As much as I do truly enjoy Romita's work in this run, I really love his later, blockier, more exaggerated style.

    I do find that later style more appealing myself, although as I think I've said before I have a hard time with some of its quirks. His "topographical" rendering of Spider-Man's mask, bending to the planes of Peter Parker's face, was much appreciated in direct contrast to the horrendous Todd McFarlane approach.

    @SpaceSquid: a life dedicated to probability might be skewing my perspective on all of this

    You must hate Wanda Maximoff.

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  26. Treebore said....
    For the most part, I don't think the belts and pouches really show up until Jim Lee comes aboard. Most of the Silvestri/Leonardi stuff post-Romita is pretty clean.


    I was over-simplifying things. I think Byrne, Cockrum and Smith drew "realistic" looking characters....JR Jr's stuff just doesn't look "right" to me. That begins the downhill slide for me that culminates with pouches, leather jackets, muscles on muscles, Gambit, Cable....just TOO much for me.

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  27. @Space Squid: Even so, it's still a poor choice for an ongoing story.

    Yeah, I think we're all in agreement there. :)

    @Blam: Most of the run-up to #200 is a melange of Forge and Rachel in that Hound outfit and Morlocks and Freedom Force that I just try not to think about and be thankful that the BWS issues looked so cool to leave a decent parting taste in the mouth of my mind's eye (complete metaphor fail, I know).

    Ha! I'm actually really looking forward to getting your take on this material as you read through it a second time, both in the hope you might find some of it to be better than you remember and for your reaction to some of the bad stuff you may have forgotten (if you think Rachel's hound outfit is bad, you've clearly forgotten her jazzercize costume ;) ).

    Let's all play a little game called Agree to Disagree! 8^)

    To be fair, I'm not yet sure if it is Green that I like, so we may not be at that point yet. It's just a theory I've latched onto in my continued attempt to categorically determine why I like Romita's art so much when so many people don't. We'll see as the run continues, but I'm afraid it may just come down to some combination of nostalgia/"because I do, that's why!" :)

    @Mock: That begins the downhill slide for me that culminates with pouches, leather jackets, muscles on muscles, Gambit, Cable....just TOO much for me.

    Gotcha.

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  28. Taking the long view, I ended up surprised that I liked Maddy during the Silvestri & Leonardi years. The way she was determined to find a place for herself on the team after the events of the previous years was actually interesting.

    While I find JR Jr.'s work during this era flat, I like what he did on Daredevil. Al Williamson's inks and Ann Nocenti's imaginative scripts helped. I had dismissed JR Jr.'s art ( both '80s & '90s styles) as not for me until I acquired a run of DD for cheap. It opened up my eyes to his skill as a storyteller, and his facility with weirder or " street level" super-hero comics. He'll never be a favorite, but I respect his abilities.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  29. @Blam

    Amara's arrival irritates the hell out of me for exactly the same reason, actually. The difference is in a plot that requires coincidence, and a plot that is built on it and runs for months, despite it not in any way working.

    In fact, coincidence in comics always drives me crazy. This is quite a problem, as you can imagine, given how often comics have relied on it as a basis for a story.

    Though rule of cool gets us some way out of it, of course. That's pretty much the only way I can deal with Wanda; just pretend she's a living version of Douglas Adams' Infinite Improbability Drive. That's fun enough to dull the voices of sanity lurking around the back of my head.

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  30. "From the Ashes" > Dark Phoenix Saga

    Yeah, I said it. Paul Smith era was too short lived, but could NOT have gone out on a higher note.

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  31. Teebore -- "I read about a meeting Stan Lee had with all the staff writers in 1975 about how they could only present the illusion of change for characters for fear of changing something that would upset potential or existing licensees."

    I wonder if that's the same meeting Doug Moench mentioned in an interview from a few years ago. Despite my best Googling efforts, I can't find it -- but I know I read something where Moench says Stan gathered a bunch of the writers in his office and laid down the law about something... then Stan asked Doug to stay after and told him to disregard what he'd just said and keep writing like he'd been writing, apparently because he was just that good (I like Doug Moench, but he seems to have a bit of an ego -- not of Byrne or Englehart proportions, but fairly sizable).

    Teebore -- "I never really had a good eye for how an inker can influence a penciler's work..."

    I'm the same way. When I was younger, I knew what I liked and I knew what I didn't. It never occurred to me that the reason I might like one artist's work one place and not as much someplace else was because of the inker, I suspect because I always assumed that inkers were just "tracers" and didn't contribute anything to the art beyond making it darker for reproduction (and I don't even know when I figured that much out). I've learned over the years to notice how inkers affect the work, but I didn't really get comfortable with such obvervations until relatively recently; like maybe in the past ten years or so.

    I'm the same with "storytelling". I always used to read writers and artists and editors talking about what great storytellers certain artists were, but I never really understood what that meant. I guess on some level I probably always knew when storytelling was unclear, because it would lead to me re-reading a scene or something to figure out what had happened. But around the time I was really getting into comics full-force, the proto-Image guys were dominating things with their pin-up styles and storytelling wasn't a big concern anyway. And it stayed that way on most of the titles I read up to at least the mid-90's. So it took a very long time before I finally began to recognize good storytelling vs. bad -- like within the past two or three years, maybe.

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  32. Blam -- "When I think about that, it's amazing that John Byrne wasn't involved..."

    Me too, especially considering that the original X-Men are pretty much his favorite super-group of all time. Though he has said that he started pitching X-Men: The Hidden Years as early as the mid-80's, so maybe he was hoping that might be picked up and didn't want to "overlap" with a very similar series? Or maybe -- and this seems more likely knowing Byrne -- he didn't want to work with characters who had been "tarnished" by Claremont. Though that wouldn't explain why he later came back to script the series immediately after Claremont's departure.

    Blam -- "I remember blaming Dan Green even at the time, because while I wasn't a particular fan of JR Jr.'s early Amazing Spider-Man I liked his Uncanny X-Men a lot less."

    I'm in a similar boat, though with different levels of extremity. I don't dislike Romita's X-Men work that much, but I do find it to be less impressive than his run on Spider-Man. On Spidey, Romita had several inkers, as I recall -- Jim Mooney, Klaus Janson, John Romita Sr., and even Dan Green, possibly among others -- but his work always impressed me there, and I still consider it one of the definitive artistic runs on the character. But somehow I feel like there's a drop between his work there and his work on X-Men. I can only think to blame Green, even though he inked at least one pretty nice-looking issue of Romita's Spidey (#249 or 250, I think).

    Your other possibility is valid too, though, and not one that I had considered -- maybe Romita was just doing breakdowns on the X-Men. The only reason I find it hard to buy into this theory is that Romita has a reputation as a very fast artist, even when doing full pencils, and he wasn't working on another title at the same time, so what would've caused him to turn in sub-standard work when he had time to do it better?

    The one last possibility I can come up with is that maybe Romita just isn't suited to drawing team books. Outside of the X-Men, the majority of his work over the decades has been on Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Punisher, and to a lesser extent, Thor. Maybe he just gets burnt out when drawing too many costumed characters in one book? I haven't read his recent Avengers stuff, due to my dislike of Bendis, so it's possible I'm totally off base. As I said before, I thought his second run on X-Men was pretty good overall.

    But anyway, I'll stress again that I really have few problems with Romita's run. I don't think it's awful; I just don't find that it's up to his usual standards either.

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  33. Jeremy -- "'From the Ashes' > Dark Phoenix Saga"

    I personally disagree, but it's mainly because I think "Dark Phoenix" has a stronger story. If we're looking at them purely based on the artwork though, I can kind of see your point.

    I like Byrne and Austin overall better than Smith and Wiacek, but the former duo has a much larger sample size to work with. If Smith and Wiacek had done thirty-some issues too, I might have a different opinion.

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  34. @Mike: The way she was determined to find a place for herself on the team after the events of the previous years was actually interesting.

    Ditto. Her post-X-Factor, pre-"Inferno" stint with the team has won me a lot of affection for the character.

    @Jeremy: Paul Smith era was too short lived, but could NOT have gone out on a higher note.

    Agreed. Objectively, I'd have a hard time arguing that "From the Ashes" is better than "Dark Phoenix", if for no other reason than because you really need the latter for the former to resonant (and, as Matt said, "DPS" has a more tightly constructed story), but personally, I've always said I prefer the Claremont/Smith run to the Claremont/Byrne run, so I can't disagree with your sentiment too much.

    @Matt: t never occurred to me that the reason I might like one artist's work one place and not as much someplace else was because of the inker

    Ditto. And in regards to storytelling.

    I suspect because I always assumed that inkers were just "tracers" and didn't contribute anything to the art beyond making it darker for reproduction (and I don't even know when I figured that much out)

    I'm pretty sure the idea didn't even occur to until I saw Chasing Amy, and even then, it took awhile for the idea to sink in.

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  35. @Matt: and this seems more likely knowing Byrne -- he didn't want to work with characters who had been "tarnished" by Claremont. Though that wouldn't explain why he later came back to script the series immediately after Claremont's departure.

    Having the job be interpreted as sticking it to Claremont in some way, however, might make up for that. 8^)

    @Matt: maybe Romita was just doing breakdowns on the X-Men

    It's not so much that I think (and I'm only guessing at any of it; I never really followed JRJr.'s process) that he was officially doing breakdowns, just that I get the sense that he's a loose penciler in general — which is reinforced by your understanding that he's known as fast, plus the few pencils of his that I can remember seeing in my mind's eye. So the inker, whether inking with a heavy hand or not, becomes all the more important. When he was inked by Al Williamson on Spider-Man in the late '90s, and especially on Amazing Spider-Man with JMS writing in the early '00s (the last of JRJr.'s stuff I've read, although I've seen promo art for New Avengers and whatever), I thought that Williamson was very good at interpreting the pencils, knowing what to add as well as what to leave out. So Green might've been laying his own style on thick, if still rather minimalist, or he might've been doing very little save essentially tracing and filling blacks; either way, I don't think that it did JRJr. any favors.

    @Matt: The one last possibility I can come up with is that maybe Romita just isn't suited to drawing team books

    While anything's possible, I rather doubt this. Pretty much any superhero artist I've ever seen interviewed, including those I've interviewed myself, would much rather be drawing fantastic stuff and basically nude figures with lines on them than buildings and cars and animals and plainclothed people that require a lot of reference — even Brian Bolland, who's famous for how well he does that stuff. Oddly enough this seems to hold true for artists who came of age during and/or have otherwise bought into the fussy, buckles-and-pouches look of recent decades or the whole "let the seams show" / "make it armor" approach that followed. If you're working on Crisis on Infinite Earths or you're George Pérez in general then, yeah, it's extra work to have lots of superheroes around, but otherwise it's usually a trade-off between lots of costumed characters and nearly as many regular ones that aren't why you're drawing superhero comics.

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  36. This is still my favorite era of the Claremont X-Men, but rereading this issue was frustrating.
    Since the reader knows that this is not really Phoenix, it's tedious to endure a double size story in which the X-Men are all fooled by an illusion.It's a real really lazy, cliche have the heroes see something that's not there, and make that the crux of the issue.
    However, this is a great showcase for how cool Cyclops is. He was my favorite character growing up as well.

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