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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #180

"Whose Life Is It, Anyway?"
April 1984

In a Nutshell 
Kitty and Storm discuss their relationship, after which the X-Men are whisked away to Secret Wars

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: John Romita Jr., Dan Green and Bob Wiacek 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Reveling in his recently regained ability to walk, Professor X plays basketball in the Danger Room until he's hit by another debilitating psionic scanning wave. Hearing him cry out, Storm enters, and the pair discuss Storm's recent physical and emotional changes. Meanwhile, Kitty and Doug Ramsey are kicked out of an arcade after Kitty's high score breaks the game. Over lunch, they discuss Kitty's anger at Storm for changing from the woman Kitty knew into someone who scares her, as well as Doug's upcoming interview with the Massachusetts Academy. At the mansion, Colossus and Wolverine discuss Colossus' feelings for Kitty and his concern over her friendship with Doug, someone her own age with similar interests. At the botanical gardens, Storm visits her plants and stops a mugging.


That evening, the X-Men discuss Doug's trip to the Massachusetts Academy. Kitty proposes tagging along to make sure Doug doesn't fall into the hands of the Hellfire Club, with Professor X monitoring her telepathically. With the White Queen in a coma, the X-Men believe the danger is minimal, so Storm and Xavier agree to Kitty's plan. After the meeting, Storm whisks Kitty into the sky, and the two discuss their relationship. Kitty admits to being mad at Storm for changing from the person she was, while Storm assures Kitty that her feelings about Kitty haven't changed. Storm tells Kitty she needs the strength of a true friend as she continues to discover herself, and Kitty agrees to do her best to stand by her. The following week, the X-Men drop Kitty off at the airport. She and Doug board a private jet bound for the Massachusetts Academy while the X-Men proceed to Central Park, the location to which Professor X is suddenly able to pinpoint the scanning wave's origin point. When they arrive, they discover a massive alien structure. At the same time, Kitty and Doug are just settling in for their flight when the White Queen emerges from the cabin of the plane. Kitty mentally calls out for Professor X, but before her cry for help can reach him, he and the X-Men enter the alien structure and disappear from the planet.

Firsts and Other Notables
Kitty (and the rest of the X-Men, and the readers) learn that Doug Ramsey is a mutant in this issue, with the power to decipher languages (which explains his skill with computer programming languages), something Professor X describes as a non-demonstrative power, one not suited for combat, suggesting Xavier has a reached a point where he no longer feels compelled to recruit every new mutant to the school (something which fits the recent relative population explosion of mutants suggested by, amongst other things, the Morlocks). 


With Professor Xavier regaining the use of his legs in New Mutants #14, this issue marks the beginning of a protracted period in which a fully mobile Xavier will frequently join the X-Men out in the field, though Claremont will continue to concoct a variety of limitations for him to prevent him from simply being able to telepathically solve all the X-Men's problems. 

The White Queen has awoken from the coma caused by Mastermind. 

The tension simmering between Storm and Kitty since Storm's transformation is defused in this issue, with Storm admitting that she was wrong to act as Kitty's mother, and forcing Kitty to accept that it's okay when people you care about change, setting the stage for Kitty's own personal heartbreak and personality changes in the months ahead. 

Professor X is hit with the fourth and final scanning wave from the Beyonder, and by the end of the issue, he's able to trace to it an alien structure in Central Park. That structure appeared in most of the Marvel titles on sale at the same time as this issue (at least, the titles of characters who would appear in Secret Wars), and most of those issues ended with the characters being strangely drawn to the structure and entering it, only to disappear, setting up their appearances in Secret Wars #1. 
 

Phoenix: The Untold Story, the special issue showcasing the original ending to the "Dark Phoenix Saga", discussed here, was on sale at the same time as this issue, as was Marvel Graphic Novel #9, featuring the first appearance of Dave Cockrum's Futurians, the characters he left X-Men to develop.

A Work in Progress
Professor X opens the issue playing basketball and mentions to Storm his past as an athlete, something that was actually established back in the early days of Lee and Kirby.


Xavier notices how physically attractive Storm is for the first time, something that, despite Storm not being a student in the same way as, say, Kitty or Dani and the fact that the usually-asexual Xavier has spent much of the last year making out with Lilandra, still comes across as a little random, if not skeevy.


Professor X also does a cursory scan of Storm's mind and confirms that her recent behavior is not being caused by a mental illness. 


Kitty opens up to Doug about exactly why Storm's transformation bothers her so much.


We learn that when emptying her attic, Storm did not destroy her plants, but rather donated them to a botanical garden.

While attacking a group of muggers, Storm shows off her Wolverine-trained hand-to-hand skills. 


Storm tells Kitty that she herself isn't sure how she feels about her recent personality change, but that for the first time in her life, she's feeling real, genuine emotion without reservation, and that she needs Kitty to stand by her while she figures out what kind of person she wants to be.


I Love the 80s
This issue is a treasure trove of 80s references and fashions, starting with Kitty's look on the cover and throughout the issue.

While playing basketball, Professor X references Kareem Abdul Jabar, and, having regained the ability to walk, he too can now show off his gams with a pair of 80s short-shorts.


Later, Kitty and Doug are kicked out of an arcade for breaking a game with their high score, and for always being able to play each game on only one quarter. 


I'm not quite sure how to categorize this observation, but one of the muggers tells the women they're attacking that she needs to make them "real happy" to save her husband, a clear insinuation of sexual assault, made all the more reprehensible/questionable given that the woman appears to be, well, older.


Claremontisms
Colossus tries to work through his feelings and worries about Kitty while performing that old favorite physical activity of Claremont's, tending to a tree on the mansion grounds. 


Young Love
Colossus notes that back in Russia, he and Kitty could be married by now.


 He also admits to Wolverine that's he grown jealous of Kitty's friendship with Doug.  


Human/Mutant Relations
After preventing a couple from being mugged, Storm notes the people she rescued still look upon her with fear for being a mutant. 


For Sale
There's ad for the Atari version of the arcade classic Joust, a game I was largely unfamiliar with until I read Ready Player One, in which it features prominently. 

Teebore's Take
This is perhaps Claremont's most overtly soap operatic issue yet. A cliffhanger setup for Secret Wars and New Mutants aside, it concerns itself not with the machinations of super-villains, grandiose sci-fi ideas or tensions between humans and mutants. Instead, the focus is entirely on the characters and their relationships. At the center of this is Storm. The only traditional action in the issue comes from Storm's fight with a group of would-be muggers, connecting the issue back to #122, a similarly soap operatic issue which used a similar confrontation as its central action set-piece. By contrasting the two encounters, Claremont highlights the changes in herself that Storm has experienced (that Storm was frightened to use her powers against the muggers for fear of harming them unnecesarily; this Storm eschews using her mutant abilities because it'll be "more fun" without them), setting the stage for the issue's climatic showdown between Kitty and Storm.

In a scene that is played entirely straight (disregard the fact that the conversation is occurring in mid-air, the pair held aloft by Storm's winds, and it's a conversation that could have occurred between any two people anywhere), Kitty and Storm hash out their feelings for one another. In the process, they come to an understanding, ending the animosity that's been simmering between them since Storm's transformation in issue #173 and foreshadowing more heartbreak for Kitty in the months ahead. Though he'll never leave the comic book trappings behind entirely, with this issue Claremont shows that he's completely comfortable occasionally putting nothing but the relationships of the characters front and center. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we follow Kitty to the Massachusetts Academy in New Mutants #15, and next week we follow the rest of the X-Men to Battleworld in Secret Wars #1-12.

10 comments:

  1. When I was younger, I think this was the first issue that made me realize I wasn't going to be as into this phase of the X-Men as I had been previously. The handful of issues following Smith's departure still read more or less like superhero comics, while, as you note, this issue comes across as basically a soap opera installment with no real action to speak of. The weird thing is, I really like soap operatics in my comics... but I think when that's all there is, it leaves me cold.

    However, there were often plenty of straight soap issues in the Lobdell/Nicieza era, which I loved. I think the difference there, though, is that those soap operatics leaned more towards the "everyone has a secret/there are mysterious machinations going on in the background" variety, which is the stuff that I really love. Claremont's straight soap issues focus more on the interpersonal relationships of his characters, but without the impending air of menace hovering over everything that came along in the 90's. The former may be more realistic and even more mature, but the latter is far more interesting and fun for me.

    But I'm sort of just rambling at this point. It's entirely possible I could've come up with different reasons for not enjoying this issue yesterday.

    I meant to mention this in last week's New Mutants comments, but I forgot: the whole Doug Ramsey thing kind of bugs me. He was talked about in previous issues, then he finally shows up with no real fanfare, either here or in New Mutants. Every time I read this sequence of issues, I feel like I missed his "proper" introduction someplace.

    Also, I always, always, always want to call him Doug Ramses. The name "Ramsey" just feels... incomplete, somehow.

    "Xavier notices how physically attractive Storm is for the first time..."

    It's weird to me that he notices this now, after her punk transformation. Maybe he's just into that sort of thing. It actually wouldn't surprise me, based on some of Claremont's common tropes, to learn that the straight-laced Xavier is secretly into some sexually deviant stuff.

    "Colossus tries to work through his feelings and worries about Kitty while performing that old favorite physical activity of Claremont's, tending to a tree on the mansion grounds."

    It's a wonder there were any trees left on the property by the end of Claremont's run on the title. Why, exactly, were the X-Men constantly cutting down entire trees? I understand pruning branches here and there, but we always see them chopping down very large trees which have clearly been present, and not a bother to anyone, for quite some time!

    I look forward to Secret Wars next week!

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  2. @Matt: The former may be more realistic and even more mature, but the latter is far more interesting and fun for me.

    You make a good point about the difference in soap opera styles between what Claremont is doing here and what Nicieza and Lobdell did in the 90s.

    I certainly can't deny that I enjoy the soap opera of the 90s (it's what got me hooked on the books in the first place), but I also think there's a bit more craft to what Claremont's doing at this time that I also appreciate.

    Every time I read this sequence of issues, I feel like I missed his "proper" introduction someplace.

    I can't say that it's ever bothered me, but you're definitely right that his first appearance in New Mutants #13 occurs with little fanfare and feels like he should have appeared somewhere else first.

    It makes me wonder if Claremont always intended to work Doug into the New Mutants gradually, or if he was created to simply be a random friend of Kitty's with a non-offensive power who eventually worked himself into a place where Claremont had to put him on the team.

    Also, I always, always, always want to call him Doug Ramses

    Sayeth Colossus to Pharaoh, "let my Katya go!"

    It actually wouldn't surprise me, based on some of Claremont's common tropes, to learn that the straight-laced Xavier is secretly into some sexually deviant stuff.

    It wouldn't surprise me either. Though I do think there is a pretty basic sexual element to Storm's punk look to which Xavier could be responding. I mean, I don't know that I'd go so far as to call Punk Storm "hot" in a traditional sense, but she's definitely more sexualized, what with the low cut tube top and tight leather pants, as opposed to her more matronly "original" look.

    Though maybe that just means *I'm* unknowingly into some sexually deviant stuff too... :)

    Why, exactly, were the X-Men constantly cutting down entire trees?

    Previously, Claremont usually mentioned they were diseased or dying or something (I think that was the case with the stump Colossus removed in #140 and the tree the whole team was taking out in #175), but here it's just, "I'm Colossus, I'm sad, choppy chop goes the tree..."

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  3. Professor X describes as a non-demonstrative power, one not suited for combat, suggesting Xavier has a reached a point where he no longer feels compelled to recruit every new mutant to the school

    I appreciate how Xavier's reaction can justifiably be used in the official Professor Xavier is really, really a jerk Retcon that has gone on for a few years. It really lends credence to the idea that Xavier really sought out the most powerful, combat capable mutants for his private militia and the school functioned more as a military academy. It's understandable for his mission but his dream for mutant kind as a whole might have been better served with a wide range of talents at his school. Though Tessa was retconned into Sage, I honestly think it showed a difference between the Hellfire Club and the X-Men - they were willing to take any useful skill that could help in their goals of world domination (it was implied that there were many other mutants at the Massachusetts Academy but not all of them were suited to be on the Hellions) whereas Charles would rather just absorb the necessary skills and maintain his control over his curriculum and training program. Just a random thought I had.

    The White Queen has awoken from the coma caused by Mastermind.

    This must have happened off-screen because I think the last time we actually saw her in Uncanny X-Men 131, she'd been in the talons of the Phoenix and had unleashed one psi-bolt that triggered an explosion. I suppose Mastermind meant for her never to recover so he would have a direct hand in choosing her successor or maybe he wanted to be the only psionic on the Lords Cardinal so he would be able to take control of everyone else without her detecting his manipulation, even though Emma provided the psionic skills necessary for him to reach into Jeans' mind. I guess Villains do as Villains do. Did Emma ever get revenge on him?

    I had a similar reaction to this issue as others - I didn't actually like the direction Storm took and while there is a definite fluidity to how Romita renders action scenes, it seems misplaced in this type of group of characters. His rendering of Storm's winds, for example, was ugly to me. I give him a pass because I discovered these when I was a teen, so had the advantage of skipping issues if I didn't like the story. This issue was a miss for me because I never really liked Kitty as a character so their relationship wasn't of interest to me. It's nice that Storm admitted that it was wrong of her to act like a mother to Kitty, though.

    I'm glad I discovered your blog! I've really had a blast re-discovering some of the Classics and reading the comments from other people who've bothered to read the original run! Keep up the great work!

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  4. Oh, Kitty... Boots over leg warmers over jeans?!?

    I'm curious about how much or how little that aerial view on the cover of the mansion and its land squares with what we've had established geographically in stories.

    While playing basketball...

    In shorts that tight, I don't know how much longer the Prof's gonna be walking.

    The patter on Pg. 2 does not sound like Xavier. And what's the deal with that "Xavier School Basketball 1972-1973" banner?

    Storm tells Kitty she needs the strength of a true friend as she continues to discover herself, and Kitty agrees to do her best to stand by her.

    Claremont's dialogue for the thugs in the greenhouse is beyond clunky, but I must say he does a very nice job with Storm's explanations to Kitty.

    Have we had a scene between Ororo and Stevie Hunter yet? Kitty's mentioned Ororo's changes to Stevie, and now we have the confrontation between Ororo and Kitty, but I feel like a big piece of the triangle that Ororo spent so much time angsting over has been neglected; Stevie and Ororo's friendship is often as much something we're told as shown, and Stevie is most definitely a member of the now-you-see-'em-now-you-don't cast.

    Xavier notices how physically attractive Storm is for the first time, something that, despite Storm not being a student in the same way as, say, Kitty or Dani and the fact that the usually-asexual Xavier has spent much of the last year making out with Lilandra, still comes across as a little random, if not skeevy.

    I'm not sure if we're supposed to take this as a reaction to him feeling more virile now that he has the use of his legs again or feeling more randy now that Lilandra's away or what. I don't think that it's supposed to tie into Storm's new look and attitude so much as Xavier's own changes, although there's certainly something in his thought balloons here about Ororo being so distant when he recruited her that (despite her being totally naked and no less physically attractive than she is now) he just didn't think of her that way. I do agree that it's pretty random, at least without better context, and skeevy, despite her maturity, but even more so I just think it's a little clumsy.

    Colossus tries to work through his feelings and worries about Kitty while performing that old favorite physical activity of Claremont's, tending to a tree on the mansion grounds. 

    Matt speaks for me, too.

    I'll just add that I kind-of want a thought balloon from Storm as she looks on tying the subplots together — "Not long ago, I would have felt a dire loss in my soul when Peter felled that ancient, majestic oak, yet now I have an almost overwhelming desire to join him, to exult in marking my own animalistic triumph against a monument of nature. I am changing. Of that I have no doubt."

    [O]ne of the muggers tells the women they're attacking that she needs to make them "real happy" to save her husband, a clear insinuation of sexual assault, made all the more reprehensible/questionable given that the woman appears to be, well, older.

    That seemed... excessive. Although it's certainly a good reminder that not all of the harsh reality that led to superhero comics' upcoming, excessive grim-'n'-gritty infusion came via Alan Moore and Frank Miller — X-Men, The New Teen Titans, and even Cloak and Dagger were dealing with sex, drugs, street crime, etc. in more-realistic-for-the-time fashion.

    I hadn't made the connection with the similar scene in #122, but that's a nice observation. And I have to say that at this point I have no idea if Claremont intends such comparisons, because it being intentional and it being coincidental are both equally believable.

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  5. @Drew: It really lends credence to the idea that Xavier really sought out the most powerful, combat capable mutants for his private militia and the school functioned more as a military academy.

    It's an interesting idea, one that kind of melds fourth wall breaking concerns like the X-Men needing to function as an exciting action/adventure/sci-fi comic with in-universe continuity. Though, as you pointed out in the post for issue #1, this hasn't always been true; the original X-Men were a pretty random assortment of powers with varying degrees of usefulness.

    This must have happened off-screen because I think the last time we actually saw her in Uncanny X-Men 131, she'd been in the talons of the Phoenix...

    Mastermind putting her into a coma did happen off screen (sometime before issue #169), though before that she'd appeared after the "Phoenix Saga" in issues #151 and #152 (when she swapped bodies with Storm).

    I guess Villains do as Villains do. Did Emma ever get revenge on him?

    The implication from issue #175 and annual #7 is that Mastermind attacked Emma as part of his overall "get revenge on the people I believe effed me over during the Phoenix Saga" scheme that ran through the "From the Ashes" Story. Though as far as I know, I don't believe Emma exacted any revenge on him in turn.

    Keep up the great work!

    Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying the series, and thanks for commenting.

    @Blam:Oh, Kitty... Boots over leg warmers over jeans?!?

    She REALLY loves the 80s...

    And what's the deal with that "Xavier School Basketball 1972-1973" banner?

    Good question. I had to give the scene second pass just to make sure he was in the Danger Room and not some heretofore unseen school gymnasium, so presumably it's a detail he programmed into the holographic simulation to make it seem more like a high school gym. Why he chose those years for the banner, I have no idea.

    Have we had a scene between Ororo and Stevie Hunter yet?

    Not to my recollection, and I believe you're right in that Stevie just kind of wanders in and out of the books without the pair ever hashing things out.

    I don't think that it's supposed to tie into Storm's new look and attitude so much as Xavier's own changes

    That's my reading of it as well, though that also implies some additional unsettling things, in that if he's now feeling more virile/masculine since he can walk, it follows that it means he wasn't those things when he was a paraplegic.

    "Not long ago, I would have felt a dire loss in my soul when Peter felled that ancient, majestic oak, yet now I have an almost overwhelming desire to join him, to exult in marking my own animalistic triumph against a monument of nature. I am changing. Of that I have no doubt."

    I now want to read Blam's X-Men Forever, in which you pick up where Claremont's run left off, writing as though you were Claremont, and we never know the difference. :)

    Although it's certainly a good reminder that not all of the harsh reality that led to superhero comics' upcoming, excessive grim-'n'-gritty infusion came via Alan Moore and Frank Miller

    Good point.

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  6. @Drew: I didn't actually like the direction Storm took

    Welcome to the club! Actually, I have to say that I'm less down on Storm's transformation this time around, possibly because it's a known thing and it's all in retrospect. I hated it back in the day.

    @Teebore: I believe you're right in that Stevie just kind of wanders in and out of the books without the pair ever hashing things out.

    It's like there's some third X-Men series out there, The Unforgotten Extras, with Stevie, Lockheed, Illyana ('til now), and Sean. "Ah, Lockheed, me boyo, I keep comin' back from Muir Island t'check on Charley an' me friends, but they barely ever wander through th' background. Look! 'Tis Fred Duncan!"

    @Teebore: I now want to read Blam's X-Men Forever, in which you pick up where Claremont's run left off, writing as though you were Claremont, and we never know the difference. :)

    Ha! I haven't read any of the X-Men Foreverses. When the first came out, I'd been away from the X-Men, um, forever, last checking in during the Morrison/Quitely New X-Men and Ellis "Counter-X" stuff. Nicieza isn't my favorite writer, I wouldn't have gotten most of the references, and I loved the Busiek/Pacheco Avengers Forever, so there was no point. Claremont's series was/were intriguing in theory, but at that point I hadn't read any Marvel in several years, including his previous returns to the X-Men family, and I heard that it was iffy stuff. For the record, I'd have a lot more fun doing retcon-insert stories like in Classic X-Men, but even then I'd have to stick to what we knew of the characters at the time, or at least through Uncanny X-Men #205, unless we were waiting until this whole re-read is over. And, yes, I'm aware that it's an entirely theoretical compliment that didn't require this reply. 8^)

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  7. @Drew:

    It really lends credence to the idea that Xavier really sought out the most powerful, combat capable mutants for his private militia and the school functioned more as a military academy.

    It's an interesting idea but it was the early days before the mutant population explosion. It wouldn't be that interesting to read about the X-Men encountering someone whose power was to manipulate cloth with her mind or change the color of flowers at will (both powers that turned up in the late 1970s to early 1980s). And a mutant with a lesser power would be able to conceal it in a way that a Cyclops or an Angel couldn't. An angry mob probably wouldn't gather if the neighbor's rose bushes suddenly started sprouting pink flowers instead of red.

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  8. And season eight, which began with Nightcrawler's birthday, ends on a huge cliffhanger. Kitty and Doug are in the clutches of the White Queen! The X-Men are nowhere to be found! Along with most of the Marvel Heroes!
    Kitty's problems continue in the season finale of the 13 episode short 1st season of the New Mutants, but stay tuned til next season to see what happens in a special 3 hour miniseries 'The Secret War!'
    - mortsleam

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  9. @Blam: "Ah, Lockheed, me boyo, I keep comin' back from Muir Island t'check on Charley an' me friends, but they barely ever wander through th' background. Look! 'Tis Fred Duncan!"

    Haha! True story: if ever given the opportunity, the first thing I'd do whilst writing an X-Men comic would be to bring back Fred Duncan and Ted Roberts.

    @mortsleam: but stay tuned til next season to see what happens in a special 3 hour miniseries 'The Secret War!'

    Ha! Secret Wars would totally be one of those old school TV miniseries movies.

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  10. Hey Teebore, just commenting to say that I'm back to read and/or comment, as I said I would on Not Blog X! I'm looking forwards to your reviews - I forgot how in-depth you go, and it's very entertaining.

    On a side note, I coincidentally recently came into possession of Essential X-Men Vol.5 - my first Essential X-Men volume in roughly six years! Recently I've been introducing a girl I've been seeing to X-Men via my Essentials, and she was nice enough to buy the fifth volume for me, so thanks to her, I'll be able to understand the context of the next twenty-ish reviews. Huzzah!

    @Blam!:It's like there's some third X-Men series out there, The Unforgotten Extras, with Stevie, Lockheed, Illyana ('til now), and Sean. "Ah, Lockheed, me boyo, I keep comin' back from Muir Island t'check on Charley an' me friends, but they barely ever wander through th' background. Look! 'Tis Fred Duncan!"

    This made me laugh waaaay too much. On a side note, keep track of how many times Stevie mentions her knee. I think it's around this period that she disappears into Comic Book Limbo, and when she returns circa Uncanny ~#250, one of the first things she does is bitch about it!

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