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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #207

"Ghosts"
July 1986

In a Nutshell 
Phoenix decides to take out Selene, forcing Wolverine to stop her. 

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

Plot
The X-Men are staying in the Morlock Tunnels as Wolverine recovers from his recent wounds. Rachel is plagued by dreams in which she's stalked and killed by Wolverine, as she's psychically pulling his mind into hers, forcing him to share the dreams with her. Finding little sympathy amongst the X-Men, who are in some cases still resentful of Rachel having taken their life essences to battle the Beyonder, she leaves the tunnels to wanders the streets of New York. Wondering if it wouldn't have been better for her to die in the future along with her teammates, she falls asleep on the subway. After being awoken by a kindly police officer, she is reminded of the kindness she received from a stranger her first night after arriving in the present, a man who was killed by Selene. Determined to do something good, she sets off to finish Selene once and for all.


Back in the tunnels, the X-Men realize both Rachel and Wolverine are gone, and set out to search for them. Meanwhile, Rachel, with the help of a telepathically-swayed Friedrich von Roehm infiltrates the Hellfire Club and confronts Selene. Though Selene fights back, she is ultimately overwhelmed by Rachel's greatly increased power. Just as Rachel is about to kill her, Wolverine enters the room, alerted to Rachel's intentions through their inadvertent psychic link. He tells her to stop before it's too late, arguing that though both of them have killed before, what she stands ready to do is murder, and that both she and the X-Men are better than that. Rachel insists that Selene deserves to die, for the people she has killed and will kill, and that as Phoenix, she can make her own rules. She tells Wolverine the only way to stop her is to kill her. Wolverine responds by thrusting his claws into her gut.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is somewhat infamous for its ending, in which Wolverine argues with Rachel that there is a difference between killing someone and murdering them, then proceeds to lethally stab her with his claws, attempting to stop her from murdering Selene...by killing her.


It's rather awkward, but Claremont later said in interviews that his intention was to show that Wolverine tried to kill Rachel out of fear that she would become another Dark Phoenix, which makes a bit more sense. Of course, as I'll discuss below, this doesn't come across at all in the text itself, and it stands as a bit of eyebrow-raising and muddied characterization.

The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club (consisting of Sebastian Shaw, the White Queen, Selene, etc.) is referred to as the Lords Cardinal for the first time, and moving forward, that term will be used more often than not. 

As of this issue, the X-Men are back in New York, though they're temporarily staying in the Morlock Tunnels as Wolverine recovers from the wounds suffered in issue #205.

I probably should have mentioned it last issue (I forgot), but this is the first issue of the series (starting with the relaunch in Giant Size X-Men #1) to not be reprinted in Classic X-Men/X-Men Classic as that series was cancelled after the issue which reprinted #206. 

A Work in Progress
Rachel notes that she was placed in the internment camp with the rest of the surviving X-Men (where she was first seen in X-Men #141) after serving the government as a Hound, thus reconciling her two future activities. It's noted that all of the remaining X-Men ultimately forgave her, save Wolverine.


No indication is given as to how the X-Men found Wolverine or learned of his battle with Lady Deathstrike. Additionally, the X-Men's reaction to Rachel and the events of issue #203 are somewhat odd coming in this issue, given that they were all living together in San Fransisco last issue with seemingly no problems, yet now Storm is treating Rachel coldly.


Rogue notes that many of the Morlocks intentionally mark themselves as outcasts as a badge of pride, partially explaining why so many Morlocks look like more than just regular hobos.  


The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine is shown recovering from his wounds suffered during the fight with Lady Deathstrike in issue #205 (as well as his encounter with the Beyonder in Secret Wars II). It's said that even the Morlock Healer has helped him, and he's still too injured to be moved (which is why the X-Men are staying in the tunnels), which, given how effective his healing factor is these days, is pretty remarkable.


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
Sneaking into Selene's room, Rachel recaps the events of "The Dark Phoenix Saga".


Rachel Summers, Crybaby
Waking up from her dream, Rachel lashes out, promptly destroying the property of the people with which she's staying. 


For Sale
This issue is featured in a Marvel house ad that ran this month, an ad which was included in this issue, creating a kind of Moebius Strip situation in which the ad promoting the comic appears in the comic the ad is promoting.   


Teebore's Take
This has always stuck out as an odd issue. Structurally, it serves as the beginning of a three part story that will ultimately see the X-Men, the Hellfire Club and Nimrod in a three-way battle (and in a nice little trick, each part of the story widens the previous one: here, Rachel attacks Selene. Next issue, the X-Men and Inner Circle come to the aid of their members-at-large, before Nimrod joins the fray for the third issue). This story will also write Rachel out of the book for the foreseeable future, so it's appropriate that she serves as the catalyst of the conflict and takes center stage in this issue, a last hurrah for the character in Uncanny X-Men (of course, in execution, this means a return to the largely insufferable, angsty Rachel, as she finds herself recalling the events of issue #184, a time where the few elements of her character that aren't annoying hadn't yet been established).

Where the issue falters, then, is in its infamous ending. Claremont has, in later interviews, made clear what his intentions were for the ending, that Wolverine was acting out of fear that Rachel, killing in cold blood, in the very place from which her mother emerged as Dark Phoenix, would be corrupted by the power of the Phoenix. Unfortunately, none of that is one the page, as Wolverine instead shows up and tries to argue the distinction between killing and murder. Unfortunately, the case as presented isn't as clear cut as Wolverine would like. While it's true that Rachel's attack is a pre-emptive strike and not made in self-defense, she isn't exactly attacking an innocent, or even someone who's sworn off their villainous ways. Selene will kill again - she must, in order to survive, and Rachel is correct that it would be difficult for the established authorities to arrest, try and hold Selene. Thus, whatever point Wolverine is trying to make, on page at least, is muddied, at best, and not given the space it needs to be made. That Claremont had to ultimately explain what he was trying to say in interview makes this clear, and unfortunately, that muddiness lets down an otherwise fine issue that kicks off a rather fun story.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Sam gets the solo spotlight in New Mutants #41, followed by more of Apocalypse in X-Factor #6, and next week, the X-Men and Hellfire Club join the fray in Uncanny X-Men #208.

16 comments:

  1. I hate when you make all the points I was going to make.

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  2. Yeah, this is an odd one. Everything seems "off" around this time -- Claremont's confused ending to this issue, the near-irreconcilable timeline of Wolverine's sudden appearance in New York/the X-Men's feelings toward Rachel, plus, as Blam noted last week, the fact that within the span of one issue, the X-Men set up a new status quo in San Francisco, then abandon it. Maybe Claremont had something going on in his personal life at the time that kept his full focus away from the X-Men? Of course, that doesn't excuse editorial from not keeping a better eye on things.

    "It's said that even the Morlock Healer has helped him, and he's still too injured to be moved, which, given how effective his healing factor is these days, is pretty remarkable."

    I really, really miss this version of Wolverine. It's no fun to read about an invulnerable super-mutant.

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  4. Yeah, I don't want to turn this into an argument about whether it's morally wrong to kill someone, but I think Wolverine is way in the wrong on this one. At least as it's presented in the comic. It's an almost frustratingly stupid decision since, as you pointed out, Selene is a murderer who will kill again and is beyond the law. I've never been a very big fan of Selene as a character in the first place. She seems mostly defined by her relationships to other villains, she's got an overly complicated origin and we're constantly told how powerful and scary she is without her really doing an awful lot. Not one of my favorite Claremont creations.

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  6. Everything seems "off" around this time -- Claremont's confused ending to this issue, the near-irreconcilable timeline of Wolverine's sudden appearance in New York/the X-Men's feelings toward Rachel, plus, as Blam noted last week, the fact that within the span of one issue, the X-Men set up a new status quo in San Francisco, then abandon it. Maybe Claremont had something going on in his personal life at the time that kept his full focus away from the X-Men

    Maybe it has something to do with Judith Rassendyll? I seem to remember reading that Claremont intended the Nightcrawler story in #204 to begin a multi-part Nightcrawler arc. This plan was aborted because the story sucked.

    Perhaps he had to scramble to cobble something else together when that story was scrapped, and the subsequent few issues show the seams?

    I seem to recall that he also had to write Rachel out quickly for some reason, which certainly shows-- her departure is second to Longshot's in terms of hasty, inexplicable exits.

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  7. I've also never been a fan of this issue. The funny thing is that while I always fondly remeber the X-Men circa #200-210, from Xavier's departure/Magneto's arrival to the Mutant Massacre, I really only enjoy about half of the issues of the period. I didn't care for the Secret Wars II crossover issues, the Nightcrawler solo story, or this issue, and only really enjoyed 200 & 208-209. I gusess I'm just nostalgic for this period of X-Men, even though I didn't read these issues until about 5-10 years after they were published.

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  8. Hmm, someone yesterday said something about this issue's cover, but I see the comment has been deleted. However, it reminded me that I hadn't mentioned my love of this cover. This is quite possibly my all-time favorite image of Wolverine! I can't believe I didn't say something about it yesterday.

    I recall owning a set of X-Men playing cards in the 90s, which used assorted clip art images of the major characters, and this Wolverine was one of them -- however he was redrawn into his yellow costume. I'm curious if that version of this image has ever shown up anywhere else, becasue I thought it was really cool (as practical as the brown outfit is, I've always preferred the yellow).

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  9. Since the Claremont/JRJR is "my" nostalgic X-Men era, I was a bit surprised later on when I discovered that people have a quite a low opinion of Nocenti as an editor. In retrospect...

    Your blog has been a great document of just how lax the editing is in this era. I still respect Nocenti as a writer, but I'm hard-pressed to see that any "editing" took place here. I wonder how she got the job editing Marvel's top book in the first place?

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  10. Rogue says (well, thought-balloons) that the Morlock's "alley" is "a mile beneath Manhattan's streets." Yeah? It's over 5,000 feet underground?!? That's way deeper than any subway and one hell of a trek, especially when you add the necessarily diagonal length of stairways.

    I slam the JRJr./Green art a lot, so I'll point out a few spots that I really like in this issue to be fair.

    One is the sequence with the mirror on Pg. 7. Claremont's words, and most especially his silence, makes the visual even more powerful. I'm not sure if Romita was given the image by Claremont or came with it himself, but either way it's nicely done by everyone.

    Whatever you think of Logan's actions or the level of sense he makes, that final set of panels you showed, Teebore, is good stuff. I especially like the way he grimaces and quivers in the second of the three panels, suggesting the tension his body's going through by popping his claws into Rachel in such close quarters without having to pan down to show the action.

    Finally, Rachel blasts Wolverine at the bottom of Pg. 14 in a presumably intentional echo of the way "her" Logan actually died at the hands of the Sentinels as seen back in (and on the cover of) #142. I don't know if it was intentional or not, although if it isn't that some major serendipity.

    There are still some absolutely terrible panels here too, though. 8^)

    Is this the first time we see a Black Rook (or any other non-regal chess piece) referred to as such? Apart from Kings and Queens, I don't recall the Inner Circle naming other positions.

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  11. When that old silver age "heroes never kill" rule met up with increasingly dark and violent storis in the 80's and early 90's, it often led to fairly ludicrous results.

    At times, it sounded less like "heroes don't kill, because we are moral, compassionate guys who rise above aour enemies" and more like "heroes don't kill, because we are cowards who'd rather sacrifice innocents than get our hands dirty".

    (See also: Maximum Carnage, Reed Richards saves Galactus life).

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  12. @Dr. Bitz: I hate when you make all the points I was going to make.

    I'll try to be less thorough in the future. ;)

    @Matt: Maybe Claremont had something going on in his personal life at the time that kept his full focus away from the X-Men? Of course, that doesn't excuse editorial from not keeping a better eye on things.

    Either that or stuff shifting around him, comics-wise, like the aborted Judith Rassendyll story anonymous mentioned, or maybe changes to "Mutant Massacre"? Heck, maybe this was around the time he learned he wouldn't be able to use Jim Jaspers?

    I'm curious if that version of this image has ever shown up anywhere else, becasue I thought it was really cool

    I don't think I've ever seen that before. Most of the licensing stuff I encountered back in the day was full-on Jim Lee.

    @Jeff: She seems mostly defined by her relationships to other villains, she's got an overly complicated origin and we're constantly told how powerful and scary she is without her really doing an awful lot.

    Good point, especially about how she's defined by her relationships to other villains. Even after her association with the Hellfire Club, she gets roped into the whole Upstarts thing before disappearing for a good long while.

    @Anonymous: I seem to recall that he also had to write Rachel out quickly for some reason, which certainly shows-- her departure is second to Longshot's in terms of hasty, inexplicable exits.

    I've never seen any indication from Claremont as to why he wrote Rachel out when he did, but I've always gotten the feeling that it was more planned than some other character departures.

    She was slated to appear in a limited series (which never materialized) and it definitely seems like "Mutant Massacre" wouldn't have been able to go down like it did with Rachel around (both in terms of her power level and her connection to Jean), so it seems like her leaving was something Claremont was prepared for.

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  13. @Leo: I gusess I'm just nostalgic for this period of X-Men, even though I didn't read these issues until about 5-10 years after they were published.

    I have a lot of nostalgia for the Claremont/Romita Jr. run, even though I too first read it years after it came out. And I agree that a number of issues from this specific stretch of that run aren't quite favorites despite my appreciation for the run as a whole.

    @chasdom: I still respect Nocenti as a writer, but I'm hard-pressed to see that any "editing" took place here.

    I have no idea how accurate this is, but I get the feeling that Nocenti figured Claremont had made X-Men one of Marvel's best selling titles, so she may as well let him keep doing his thing, giving him free reign, more or less.

    Which is all well and good, but it wouldn't have hurt Claremont to have had an editor who could at least step in and remind him of dropped or unfinished plot threads and whatnot (which, I believe, Weezie did during her tenure).

    @Blam: Rogue says (well, thought-balloons) that the Morlock's "alley" is "a mile beneath Manhattan's streets.

    Apparently Rogue's sense of distance is even worse than mine.

    There are still some absolutely terrible panels here too, though. 8^)

    Aw, you were doing so well. :)

    Agreed that for all the narrative concerns, those final panels are pretty good, art-wise.

    Is this the first time we see a Black Rook (or any other non-regal chess piece) referred to as such?

    I totally glossed over that. It's the first time von Roehme is referred to as the Black Rook, I'm fairly certain, though I can't remember if Pierce and Leland were ever referred to as Bishops back during "Dark Phoenix".

    I'd guess not, though Leland will be called such later in this story, and by the time the Marvel Handbook gets around to discussing the Hellfire Club, all of the Inner Circle is listed with a designation, including Sunspot's father as the White Rook.

    @entzauberung: When that old silver age "heroes never kill" rule met up with increasingly dark and violent storis in the 80's and early 90's, it often led to fairly ludicrous results.

    Yeah, as much as I generally come down on the side of "superheroes shouldn't kill", the more gritty and realistic superhero stories try to be, the more ridiculous that moral seems to be.

    It's not too much of a problem when, say, Spider-Man and Punisher aren't hanging out together, but as soon as they do, it casts the whole thing in contrast.

    (See also: Maximum Carnage, Reed Richards saves Galactus life).

    Reed saving Galactus seems like a different situation, since it was less about killing him and more about saving him, and Galactus is less of a villain than someone like Carnage.

    "Maximum Carnage", however, I'm right there with you.

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  14. A somewhat shakey start to an other-wise enjoyable 3-parter. It does seem weird how last issue, everyone seemed ok with Rachel, and yet they're all giving her nothing but bitchface here. Not that it's not deserved, mind you, but the sequence just seems off.

    and while the Wolverine side of the argument seemed meh, that was one heck of a cliff-hanger.

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  15. My concern here isn't Wolverine's intention so much as his competence. If he's trying to kill Rachel, why is he going with a gut wound? Head or heart, much more final and immediate, and the self-professed "best there is at what he does" should know that. It's like police use of lethal force. When you've drawn your gun, your only intended purpose is to kill - not to wound, not to disable, not to disarm with some ludicrous spaghetti Western crack shot to the hand. If Wolverine is trying to kill her, why did he stab her there? Did he miss? Did he want it to be lingering and painful?

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    1. He DID stab her in the heart, the next issue explains. She stays alive by telekinetically keeping her blood pumping until it heals.

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