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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #196

"What Was That?!!"
August 1985

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men work with Magneto to prevent a murder at Columbia University. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Romita Jr.  
Inker: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Professor Xavier is conducting a lecture at Columbia University when he telepathically picks up on a stray thought regarding a planned murder. Due to the limitations on his power as a result of his recent injuries, he's unable to probe deeper and identify the culprit, but resolves to bring in the X-Men to help prevent the crime from being carried out. Meanwhile, in Kenya, Storm is shot and left for dead by the hunters she had earlier fought at the bush station. Back in New York, the X-Men gather at Columbia and are briefed on the situation by Professor X. They are joined by Magneto, something which, despite their previous alliance against the Beyonder, leaves many of them feeling uneasy. Rachel is distracted by a familiar presence, and realizes the Beyonder is at the school, but he disappears before Rachel can confront him. Elsewhere, Nightcrawler meets with Father Bowen and discusses with the crisis of faith the existence and power of the Beyonder have triggered in him. That evening, a group of students sneak into an office at Columbia and set a bomb.


As Kitty investigates her portion of Xavier's student list, she interrupts a group with which she shares a seminar. Though she tries to play it cool, she quickly realizes these students were responsible for the attack on Xavier months ago, and are now planning to kill him before he can expose them. One of the students, Phil, remembers that Kitty attends Xavier's school, and calls her a mutie, prompting the group to try and kill her. At that moment, Rachel, Magneto and Xavier are in Xavier's office on campus, and when Rachel, detecting the presence of the Beyonder, creates a psi-link between her and the others, the use of her power activates the bomb in set by Phil and his companions. The other X-Men save Magneto and Xavier, but Rachel, sensing the attack on Kitty, flies off in a rage. She arrives as Kitty is being strangled by Phil, and when he fires a gun at Rachel, she turns the bullet back, intent on killing him. However, Magneto intervenes, begging her not to make the same mistakes as him and arguing that killing theses students would only confirm their worst fears about mutants. Rachel reluctantly stands down, but wipes the students' memories to protect Xavier and the X-Men. As they leave, the Beyonder watches, puzzled at the way Magneto argued against Rachel using her vast power. He realizes that to truly understand humanity, he must become human. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Following on from Secret Wars II #1, this issue features Magneto working with the X-Men directly, within their own book, for the first time, further paving the way for his eventual role on the team.


Being a Secret Wars II tie-in as well, it also features an appearance from the Beyonder, having his shed his Molecule Man-aped form for one mimicking Captain America's body in Captain America #308. Thankfully, he does little more than lurk in the background and freak out Rachel.


This issue has become somewhat infamous for the way Kitty equates the fictional racial slur "mutie" with the actual racial slur "nigger". It's something that echoes "God Loves, Man Kills", in which Kitty made similar pronoucements, but as that issue was a prestige format standalone issue aimed at the bookstore/comic shop market while this one is a regular issue of what was at the time one of Marvel's best-selling all ages titles, it's far more likely that the equivocation here reached a larger audience than the previous issue.


While the comparison of a made-up slur for a fictional race to a real-world term that represents deep cruelty, hatred and bigotry is overly-simplistic and trite, as I mentioned in my "God Loves, Man Kills" post, I still find it to be an effective comparison. Bearing in mind the audience for this book at the time was still largely what we'd call "tweens" these days, the direct and straightforward linking of fictional bigotry to real-world bigotry likely opened a lot of kids' eyes, making blisteringly-obvious that the struggle of the X-Men against prejudice can represent the struggle of all minorities against prejudice. It's by no means a solution to the problem of any kind, nor a be-all, end-all solution for prejudice, but for a thirteen-year-old kid reading it for the first time (as I was when I first read this issue), it was likely an eye-opening experience.   

Ever higher rise the sales, with the Statement of Ownership declaring that the average number of copies of each issue sold per month in the previous year was 378,135, with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling 387,067 copies, up from last year's total of ~337,000 and ~359,000.

The Chronology Corner
The Beyonder, if you care, next appears in Secret Wars II #2.

A Work in Progress
Nimrod's status as a hero to the common man is referenced by one of the school cafeteria workers.


Nightcrawler is absent from the team's hunt for the killer in this issue, and is seen conferring with Father Bowen (Dagger's uncle, last seen in New Mutants #25) about his encounter with the Beyonder, whose god-like power has triggered a crisis of faith in Nightcrawler.


Rogue references her own past a villain when discussing Magneto's involvement with the team. Rachel also mentions that in her future, Magneto was a close ally of the X-Men (and Rogue manages to shut down another Rachel crying jag before it starts).


Wolverine, similarly, observes that for all the changes the X-Men have gone through, it's not hard to believe that Magneto could have changed too.

The Beyonder, observing the X-Men, notes that Rachel has the potential to be the most powerful of them all.


We get another Fastball Special in this issue, of the traditional variety.


The X-Men see Rachel in her full Hound regalia, complete with facial scars, for the first time. 


Magneto, in talking down Rachel, questions whether his actions to save mutants have actually made things worse.


In a moment which echoes their first encounter in issue #150 (the first step towards Magneto's reformation), in which Magneto was horrified by the thought of having killed Kitty, the issue ends with Magneto carrying Kitty from the destroyed classroom, and Kitty musing that perhaps he is a hero after all.  


I Love the 80s
In one of my favorite little continuity/character moments ever, it's established that Wolverine's healing factor prevents him from being harmed by the copious amounts of smoking, while also sneaking in a little anti-smoking PSA by having Kitty get sick after trying his cigar. 


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X hasn't told the X-Men the truth about his weakened condition, lying to them directly and saying it's being caused by an experiment he's running (to their credit, most of the X-Men can tell he's lying, but don't call him on it).


Young Love
Lee Forrester is with Magneto when he meets with the X-Men.

Human/Mutant Relations
Rogue and Rachel help save a man from being mugged, but he freaks out over the fact that they're mutants, and after he leaves, the women see that he was spray painting anti-mutant epithets when he was attacked. 


For Sale
We get one of our first ads for Nestle Quik, featuring the Quik Bunny, in this issue. 


It's in the Mail
We finally get another letters page again, this one featuring letters discussing issue #186. 

Teebore's Take
This is another favorite issue of mine from this era, and as with others of its kind, that's mostly for the way it advances the ongoing subplots and characters arcs while functioning less as a chapter in a story arc and more as a chapter in an ongoing narrative. But I also like it for being the first concerted effort (as opposed to the smaller efforts we've seen previously in things like "God Loves, Man Kills" and contemporaneous issues of New Mutants) to shift Magneto into a place where he can function as an ally to the X-Men. Their reaction to the presence of Magneto in their midst is a running thread throughout this issue (wisely, as his friendly presence is likely as jarring for the X-Men as for any readers who haven't been reading New Mutants and Secret Wars II), leading to some great moments of characterization. Kitty is initially distrustful, Rogue, recalling her own past, wonders who she is to judge, while Wolverine acknowledges the capacity for change while remaining cautious.

Yet it is in Magneto's interactions with Rachel, a character who, the story reminds us, grew up in a world in which Magneto fought side by side with the X-Men, that the change in Magneto's outlook is made clear. Both characters grew up in and are survivors of a holocaust, and when Rachel lashes out at the students who tried to kill Xavier and Kitty simply for being mutants, it is with a sentiment that deliberately echoes the more villainous Magneto of the past. Yet he argues now for a different path, explaining that he's beginning to see that his way of approaching human/mutant relations has not only failed, but made things worse.

It's a significant turn for the character, and juxtaposing him with Rachel, a character that has lived in the very world Magneto is trying to prevent, helps sell it. Magneto's reformation wouldn't be possible without "Days of Future Past" (because it establishes that Magneto's fears are well-founded) or the rise in anti-mutant sentiment that has colored Romita Jr's run (because it shows that Magneto's efforts thus far haven't worked). Rachel, for all her faults as a character (and they are many), represents both those ideas. Putting these two characters together then, comparing and contrasting them, helps both characters. For Magneto, it shores up his ongoing reformation. For Rachel, it's arguably the most effective use of the character during her tenure on the title.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we say goodbye to Bill Sienkiewicz in New Mutants #31, and next week, Colossus and Kitty take center stage in Uncanny X-Men #197.

11 comments:

  1. I think I said this following your GLMK X-amination but while the anti-mutant = racism equation works I always felt that it more closely paralleled homophobia. Mutation manifests at puberty, the same time that most people begin understanding their sexuality. And most LGBT kids come from non-LGBT parents, unlike children of racial minorities. That being said, I remember being shocked to read Kitty's retort because people in comic books simply did not talk like that.

    Unfortunately the "no homo" rule in effect under Shooter prevented Claremont or anyone else from exploring that particular parallel. On the one hand a lot of kids could have benefitted from seeing themselves reflected in comic books, but on the other, considering the best that "progressive," edgy DC could come up with was Extraño and maybe not having LGBT characters at Marvel at the time may have been for the best.

    On a completely different note, was it ever explained why, if Rachel was so angsty about her facial tattoos, she didn't TK them off her face? It seems like an obvious solution and much less effort than constantly telepathically masking them.

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  2. BTW, I've been meaning to ask, is there any possibility that you might add Facebook to the identity choices?

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  3. @Anonymous: I always felt that it more closely paralleled homophobia.

    Definitely. And though Claremont never really got a chance to explore that in anything more than vague, understated ways, the parallel definitely becomes more overt in the hands of several post-Claremont writers, especially once the Legacy Virus gets introduced (which, granted, had plenty of problems of its own, conceptually and as a plotline but on a basic level, added to the metaphor).

    was it ever explained why, if Rachel was so angsty about her facial tattoos, she didn't TK them off her face?

    Not to my knowledge. I suppose you could argue it would require a finer control than she was capable of, but considering she telekinetically rearranges the molecules of her clothes, you'd think she'd be able to flick some ink out of her skin.

    I've been meaning to ask, is there any possibility that you might add Facebook to the identity choices?

    I think that's a Blogger thing and not something we have any control over, but as I'm not certain, I'll definitely look into it.

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  4. Another great issue from the CC/Romita period. The cover of Wolverine's claws and Rachel. Foreshadowing?

    I will have to confess that this issue inspired me once. Back at school, I was a target for bullies. One day at the Locker Room, an African-American asked me tauntingly "Are you a fag?" Take a wild guess what my reply was...

    Although Rachel's constant freakouts got annoying, I definitely liked it here: her sudden shock, her transformation, her coming to the rescue, and her near-comeuppance to the head bigot. Badarse. On Anonymous' question about the Tattoos, I suppose the brainwashing made them permanent physically and psychologically.

    And yes, the Rachel-Magneto confrontation is great.

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  5. @angmc43: The cover of Wolverine's claws and Rachel. Foreshadowing?

    I tend to give Claremont as much credit as I can, but I'm not sure I can call that anything more than unintentional foreshadowing. :)

    Then again, there's no in-story reason for that image on the cover, so maybe...

    I will have to confess that this issue inspired me once.

    That's great. I mean, not really, of course, it sucks that you were bullied and that it came to that, but it's great that the scene inspired you.

    Although Rachel's constant freakouts got annoying, I definitely liked it here

    Me too. For once, her freakout wasn't triggered by her moping about her terrible future or how this present is different from her past for the umpteenth time, but by the raw emotions of having someone try to kill people she loves simply for being different.

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  6. Professor X hasn't told the X-Men the truth about his weakened condition

    Which is what? I feel like I'm forgetting or missing something. I thought he was just recuperating slowly from the stabbing, despite the Morlock Healer's work.

    Lee Forrester is with Magneto when he meets with the X-Men.

    And there's no tension or even mention of it. Honestly, I can't quite recall if Lee actually met the whole group while she and Scott were together — I'm getting like my grandmother; I remember 20 years ago better than 2 months ago — but while we can of course make up off-panel scenes to satisfy ourselves as readers I'd have expected a soap-opera thought balloon on someone's behalf about how weird it is for her to be with Magneto now.

    We get one of our first ads for Nestle Quik, featuring the Quik Bunny, in this issue.

    The lettering is pretty obviously John Costanza's so I wondered if he did the art too. He's mostly known as a letterer, but he's drawn Looney Tunes stuff and whatnot. I've done some quick Googlin' and, yep, he at least penciled some Quik Bunny ads; he's also drawn Simpsons material for Bongo.

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  7. The cover's one that I've tended to despise, but I like it a lot more giving it a fresh look. My hate probably comes from disappointment with this era of X-Men back in the day and even greater disgust with Secret Wars II, although I must say that the appeal I'm finding now is more to do with the layout than the rendering and colors. (I'd never looked closely at the signature before, by the way, but that's Terry Austin on inks over JRJr.) What grabs me is the layers of depth, which would look awesome in 3D; the diorama-style effect that I get focusing on the logo and then Wolverine's hand and then the figures and the wall remind me of the first time I saw a baseball game on a big flatscreen hi-def television, with the upper-left-hand stats hanging in the foreground of space and vibrant depth to the action on the field.

    I can't believe we see someone smoking in Xavier's lecture hall. 1985!

    Prof. X is conducting a briefing at the local deli? For some reason that scene actually made me think of Giles addressing Buffy's Scooby Gang at some public locale of necessity. Also, I love all the supposed private conversations going on that cramped table.

    Kurt's "Especially when they look like demons" on Pg. 7 is a bit self-pitying. I'd say that to someone who knows Nightcrawler as Father Bowen does, even calling him by name, it is indeed the teleportation that's startling — almost by definition — rather than the teleporter being a fuzzy blue man.

    Rogue gives Magneto props for thinking to use Rachel's telepathy since the Professor's is dampened, a.k.a. the Most Obvious Solution Possible.

    Kitty grabbing the stogie from Logan makes very little sense. First: She's coughing before she grabs it, so tossing and not trying it is the expected move. Second: Kitty and Logan spent so much time together in Japan you have to figure this scene would've transpired already. I get why you like it, Teebore; I want to like it, too, but I kind-of have to squint for it to hold together.

    I like the POV and panel transition as Kitty runs up into the air on Pg. 13, but the Romita/Green art isn't doing much for me in terms of rendering and the clothes remain atrocious.

    Kitty's thought-balloon line on Pg. 14, "Something's not kosher," would've been hilarious if that pizza had sausage on it rather than anchovies.

    Yowza! I did not remember nor expect that exchange at the bottom of Pg. 14. Uncool, Claremont, even accounting for the times...

    I realize that mental powers are "scientific" rather than "magic", but it's hard to swallow that a group of college students, even with intelligence on par with Kitty's, could rig a bomb to be triggered by such powers — especially telepathy rather than telekinesis, since it's Rachel's psi-link detected by the device.

    The stuff with Magneto is generally well done, from how the characters distrust him but also consider giving him the benefit of the doubt given their own and other's struggles, redemption, etc., to how he talks down Rachel later and his interaction with Kitty at the end. Rachel vouching for him in terms of his having joined with Xavier and the X-Men in her future, which springs from a present very much like these X-Men's own present, is an interesting plot point, even apart from the fact that, as you say, mutants' worst fears about their persecution turn out to be true. Magneto's heroism in the "Days of Future Past" era is almost an irrefutable argument to his alignment with Xavier here, not unlike Spock Prime telling New Spock that he's fated to become total besties with Kirk.

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  8. @Blam: Which is what? I feel like I'm forgetting or missing something. I thought he was just recuperating slowly from the stabbing, despite the Morlock Healer's work.

    Pretty much, yeah. He hasn't told the X-Men or New Mutants that he's effectively powerless, capable of only rudimentary use of his power (though future issues will reveal that he's getting worse on account on not taking it easy enough).

    Honestly, I can't quite recall if Lee actually met the whole group while she and Scott were together

    She met most of them during the events of issue #150, and you're right that some comment about her being there/with Magneto would have been nice.

    The lettering is pretty obviously John Costanza's so I wondered if he did the art too. He's mostly known as a letterer, but he's drawn Looney Tunes stuff and whatnot. I've done some quick Googlin' and, yep, he at least penciled some Quik Bunny ads

    Very cool. Thanks for the info.

    by the way, but that's Terry Austin on inks over JRJr.

    I'd never noticed that before. That's probably part of why I like this cover so much - it does seem to pop, as you say, and I wonder if his inks help contribute to that.

    I can't believe we see someone smoking in Xavier's lecture hall. 1985!

    Nice catch!

    Prof. X is conducting a briefing at the local deli?

    I can never decide if its a deli or the school cafeteria/restaurant (my college had deli-esque restaurant like that on campus), and the issue itself never makes it clear.

    Either way, it does have a very Buffy-esque feel to it.

    I want to like it, too, but I kind-of have to squint for it to hold together.

    I agree that the execution could have been better, especially Kitty's motivation for grabbing it in the first place.

    I just really like the bold-faced PSA-ness of it, and the way it both offers a rational, in-universe explanation for why Wolverine can smoke without consequence while also making it clear there are consequences to smoking (if you're not Wolverine).

    ...the clothes remain atrocious

    Yes they do. I wonder if I'd like Rachel more if she wasn't doing everything in leggings and suspenders?

    but it's hard to swallow that a group of college students, even with intelligence on par with Kitty's, could rig a bomb to be triggered by such powers

    Yeah, I've always kinda hand-waved it away as being the result of the proliferation of anti-mutant technology at this time, but it's definitely a stretch, and a line like "we got this from a buddy in A.I.M" or somesuch would have been appreciated.

    Magneto's heroism in the "Days of Future Past" era is almost an irrefutable argument to his alignment with Xavier here, not unlike Spock Prime telling New Spock that he's fated to become total besties with Kirk.

    Well said. :)

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  9. You forgot to mention Phil's afro-mullerry Curl for "I love the 80's".

    That's a afro, mullet, & Jerry Curl...in case you were wondering :P

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  10. @Reese: That's a afro, mullet, & Jerry Curl...in case you were wondering :P

    That is a pretty rad trifecta of awesome 80s fashions. :)

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  11. Good for you, ang. That's awesome. Hopefully it had the desired effect and he sympathized with your plight.

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