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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #203

"Crossroads"
March 1986

In a Nutshell 
Phoenix tries to destroy the universe in order to destroy the Beyonder. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: John Romita Jr.
Guest Inker: Al Williamson
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In San Fransisco, Rogue recalls the last time she was in the city, when she battled Ms. Marvel and effectively killed her, permanently stealing her powers and memories. Returning to the home of Jessica Drew, where the X-Men are staying, Rogue spies Kitty outside. She is wearing Illyana's armor and wielding her Soulsword, and though Kitty remembers her, Rogue remembers nothing about Illyana or the New Mutants. Kitty rails against the Beyonder for having killed the New Mutants, and wonders what chance the X-Men have against him, when Rachel appears. Still flush with the additional power granted her by the Beyonder, she tells Kitty and Rogue her plan to destroy the universe, and the Beyonder with it, in the hope that whatever comes next will be free of his taint. She asks her teammates for their life essences in order to sustain her power, and both pass theirs on willing. Rachel proceeds to take the life essence from the rest of the sleeping X-Men, but a wakened Storm argues with her intention and refuses to give up her life essence, so Rachel takes it by force.


Leaving Earth, she flies across the galaxy to the planet of the M'Kraan crystal. She enters the crystal, intent on unleashing the neutron galaxy her mother once fought to contain. The essences of the X-Men manifest inside the crystal, and Storm continues to argue against Rachel's plan, but Rachel is adamant that this is the only way to destroy the Beyonder. However, in the process of unleashing the galaxy, Rachel connects her mind to that of every sentient being in the universe and finds herself unable to end all that life. She and the X-Men return to Earth, much to the arriving Beyonder's disappointment, as he'd hoped Rachel would use the power he gave her to destroy the universe and send the X-Men out with a bang. Instead, Rachel gives him back his power, along with everything she experienced while connected to the minds of the universe. The totality of life that he experiences overwhelms him, prompting the X-Men to explain that as life is defined by its finite span, he can never truly understand it while he remains immortal. Humbled, the Beyonder leaves without incident, and the X-Men wonder if they've made any difference.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue represents the final Secret Wars II crossover issue, the Beyonder having moved on to his "pissed off at humanity" phase. It takes place between Avengers #265 and Fantastic Four #288.

Nightcrawler does not appear in this issue, and its mentioned again that the Beyonder left him behind when he teleported the rest of the X-Men to San Fransisco. However, with the Beyonder also wiping the New Mutants, including the X-Mansion, from existence in New Mutants #37, it's unclear where exactly he is.  

Professor Xavier appears briefly, aboard the Starjammer, his life essence (and the essences of the rest of the Starjammers) also taken by Rachel in her quest. This marks his final appearance in this book for several years.


This issue finds the X-Men still in San Fransisco, having stayed in the city to help clean up in the wake of their battle with Sentinels in the previous issue. They are staying with Jessica Drew, the former Spider-Woman, whom they previously visited in Spider-Woman #37. Drew is amongst those who willing give their life essences to Rachel. 


Al Williamson returns to guest ink.

The Chronology Corner
Following this issue, the X-Men appear in Secret Wars II #9, the final issue of that series, in which Rachel is instrumental in rallying Earth's heroes against the Beyonder. During the course of their battle, the Beyonder resurrects the New Mutants and sets them against the heroes (who still don't recognize them as a result of the Beyonder erasing them from existence). Ultimately, the Beyonder is killed by Molecule Man, who shunts the Beyonder's vast power back into the universe the Beyonder abandoned, where it triggers a big bang and a universe full of varied life is formed.

Later, in Avengers #266, which serves as an epilogue to the series, Molecule Man uses his power to restore damage done by the Beyonder, including returning the X-Mansion to its pre-Beyonder state. 

A Work in Progress
This issue opens with Rogue recalling her battle with Ms. Marvel that led to her permanent absorption of Ms. Marvel's powers and memories, one of the earliest such depictions of those events (as Rogue had already committed that deed when she first appeared), which ends right where Avengers Annual #10 picks up (with Spider-Woman rescuing Ms. Marvel after she was thrown off the Golden Gate bridge by Rogue; in a neat little detail, Romita draws Ms. Marvel's costume reverting to her street clothes as Rogue drains her, as that's what she was wearing when Spider-Woman caught her)


She later notes that the city of San Fransisco has been generally welcoming to the X-Men. 

In the wake of the New Mutants' deaths and erasure from existence in New Mutants #37, Kitty is once again wielding Illyana's Soulsword and wearing her armor, and remains the only person to remember the New Mutants, due, she believes, to the unique bond shared between her and Illyana.


Rogue also mentions offhandedly that she doesn't believe in God. 


Magneto, in the wake of being connected to all the life in the universe via Rachel, finds himself rethinking his assertion that, given the opportunity to kill Hitler as an infant, he'd do so. 


As the Beyonder confronts the X-Men at the end of the issue, believing their deaths to be imminent, Wolverine thinks of Mariko, while Colossus wishes he could have said goodbye to his parents.
 

Artistic Achievements
Romita and Williamson turn in a nifty two page spread that depicts Phoenix merging with all the minds in the universe.


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
Rachel travels to the M'Kraan crystal, last seen in issue #108, overpowering its initial guardian, Jahf, intent on releasing the energy of the neutron galaxy her mother once contained.


For Sale
Captain America's going to Broadway - and you can too! (For the record, I don't think Cap ever actually made it to Broadway).


Teebore's Take
At last, we come to our final Secret Wars II tie-in issue. Thankfully, as in the past, Claremont largely pushes the Beyonder into the background, using the character as a catalyst to a tell a story rooted firmly in the history of the X-Men. With that story, Claremont returns to the conclusion of his first significant story on the title, as Rachel, the new Phoenix, walks in her mother's footsteps. As her mother before her, Rachel journeys into the heart of the M'Kraan crystal, accompanied by the life essences of the X-Men. But where Jean Grey took life essences freely given, Rachel has taken them without asking and, in some cases, by force, over her teammates' objections, and where Jean entered the crystal in order to save the universe, Rachel does so to destroy it (and, by extension, the Beyonder, though even she admits her plan is something of a Hail Mary and may not ultimately succeed in destroying the Beyonder).

Yet in the end, Rachel relents, and Phoenix is repudiated: where the vast power at her disposal ultimately corrupted Rachel's mother (or at least, as we now know, the being posing as her mother), Rachel's power instead allows her to connect with every sentient mind in the universe, making her one with the richness and diversity of existence, leading her to abort her plan to destroy it all. It is a redemptive act for Phoenix, a way to show that absolute power doesn't have to corrupt absolutely, and coming as it does only two months after Jean's return from the dead, it could be read as Claremont's attempt to show that it's possible to tell stories about Phoenix without Jean Grey. Whatever the motivation though, this issue stands as the zenith of Claremont's work on Rachel in this title. Though she'll stick around for several more issues, and Claremont will again write the character, here and elsewhere, in the future, for now he's had his final say on the subject: Phoenix is ultimately a force for good. She has been redeemed.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the New Mutants try to deal with their death and resurrection in New Mutants #38, while on Friday, Cyclops finally tries to call his wife in X-Factor #2, followed next week by Uncanny X-Men #204, in which we catch up with Nightcrawler. 

16 comments:

  1. Man, I never realized how much the status quo was shaken up around this period. I knew Xavier was in space with Lilandra, but I had no idea he'd be absent for the book for so long. I recall him being reunited with the X-Men in Uncanny #275 - Is that the next time we'll see him?

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  2. @Ian:I recall him being reunited with the X-Men in Uncanny #275 - Is that the next time we'll see him?

    In this book, yes. He guest stars in New Mutants #50, so we'll see him again in a few months.

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  3. "Still flush with the additional power granted her by the Beyonder, she tells Kitty and Rogue her plan to destroy the universe, and the Beyonder with it, in the hope that whatever comes next will be free of his taint."

    Man, if I had the Beyonder's powers do you realize what I kind of debauchery I'd take part in? Let's just there'd be numerous people hoping to be free of my taint...

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  4. @Dr. Bitz: Let's just there'd be numerous people hoping to be free of my taint...

    You know, I wrote that line, then thought "should I rephrase that to remove the word 'taint'?" Then I thought of you, and decided to leave it in. :)

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  5. Rogue mentions that Carol had quit the hero gig for reasons she doesn't really know. This has several points:
    -One could say is CC is trying to put to rest the whole Marcus debacle from AVENGERS#200. Imply, and move on.
    -Rogue's lack of memory of it is interesting: Yes, the real reason is that although Carol's memories/emotional-ties/personality are inside Rogue, the girl has no access to them. But there is an implication that Carol-in-Rogue doesn't quite have a good idea about Marcus either. CC writes about Carol possessing the knowledge of her pre-Rogue life but none of the emotional ties to them. But AVENGERS ANNUAL 10 shows a Carol who clearly knows AND feels strongly about her rape by Marcus. This idea would be confirmed in Kurt Busiek's AVENGERS run, specifically the "Kang Dynasty" saga: Carol confronts another Marcus (this time the son of Kang) and then it is revealed that Rogue took 99% of Carol's emotional knowledge, and that the 1% emotional memory that still remained within her was the Marcus-rape experience. OUCH.

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  6. Not a fan of this issue -- at all. But then, I really hate both Secret Wars II and this era's Rachel, so that's not a surprise.

    I also thought Xavier was totallly absent from comics until #275. It was only recently that I learned he pops up a few times in New Mutants over the next few years. I think he's also in a weird Starjammers special by Terry Kavanagh and Dave Cockrum.

    As a lifelong Bay Area native, I've never understood why the X-Men love San Francisco so much. I hate crossing the bridge to go there, and I really only do it a handful of times a year to attend a few Giants games.

    But then I dislike big cities in general, having spent most of my life in the suburbs. At least when the group moved to S.F. a few years ago (just pre-Utopia), they lived in Marin rather than S.F. proper.

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  7. Is anything ever made of the attack that injured Xavier so badly he eventully has to leave earth to be cured off, the one the morlock's save him from or is it just a random mugging. Kind of a weak way to remove the charcther if its the latter

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  8. It wasn't a random mugging; it was a hate-crime. Some bigots wanted to rough up Xavier for his presumably human pro-mutant views. When they found out he was a mutant, they violently assaulted him with murderous intent. It was CC's way of showing how bad the anti-mutant environment was getting (as well as trying to keep Xavier from being an all-powerful Mr. Fix-It who could solve every battle with his telepathy).
    UXM#196 reveals they were his students at his NY University lectures. Learning he was alive, they tried to kill him, Magneto, and Kitty, only to be stopped, OWNED, and mindwiped by Rachel.

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  9. I'm surprised Rachel didn't cry at all this issue...given all the pressures of being God and everything.

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  10. @angmc43: Carol confronts another Marcus (this time the son of Kang) and then it is revealed that Rogue took 99% of Carol's emotional knowledge, and that the 1% emotional memory that still remained within her was the Marcus-rape experience.

    Oh yeah, I'd forgotten about that. Aside from some iffy art and a general lack of acknowledgement from other corners of the MU for such a big story, I really liked that big "Kang War" story.

    @Matt: But then, I really hate both Secret Wars II and this era's Rachel, so that's not a surprise.

    Yeah, no avoiding that with this one. :)

    I've definitely grown to like this one more over the years, but it's never been a favorite.

    I think he's also in a weird Starjammers special by Terry Kavanagh and Dave Cockrum.

    That would be Spotlight on the Starjammers, a two-issue miniseries (prestige format too, I think). It takes place/was published sometime between New Mutants #50 and Uncanny #275, I believe.

    I hate crossing the bridge to go there, and I really only do it a handful of times a year to attend a few Giants games.

    To be fair, the X-Men can just avoid the bridge entirely and fly. ;)

    @Reese: I'm surprised Rachel didn't cry at all this issue...given all the pressures of being God and everything

    Indeed. Thankfully, I think we've gotten past the worst of the Rachel freak out and cry moments. Though I'm sure there's at least a few more in our future.

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  11. I'm just happy I found this when I did! My first issue was #210, which I think of fondly. I've only recently been getting more acquainted with some of the X-Men's more current stuff, and have loved what I've seen here so far, recounting all those Uncanny issues.

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  12. @Johnny Feathers: Welcome! Glad you like it!

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  13. Great splash page!

    Janet Jackson's signature is there in the Bullpen Bulletin's holiday wishes, by the way. 8^)

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  14. I'll repeat here what I have said elsewhere. To me the most irksome thing of Claremont's initial run is how Wolverine treats Rachel in 209. Here he is such an idiotic hypocrite.

    In fact, it kind of shows the hypocritical Wolverine of Schism. But at least with Claremont it's just a blip. Wolverine of 2014 is just awful on multiple levels. Good thing he's croaking soon!

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  15. I always saw this issue as a partial homage to the Xavier-Z'Nox storyline, uniting everyone's essence against a common foe. The spread with all the faces across the universe brings to mind a similarly-themed image from that issue, though the difference in scope between everyone on Earth and everyone in existence always seemed to me a good metaphor for the unfathomable power of the Phoenix.

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  16. I found amazing Marvel thought anyone would want to see a Captain America musical anytime-anywhere.

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