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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #208

"Retribution"
August 1986

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men and Hellfire Club come to blows over Phoenix. 

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

Plot
In the Morlock Tunnels, the X-Men lambast Wolverine for trying to kill Rachel, despite his insistence that it was a necessary act, then set out alongside Callisto and some Morlocks to track down Rachel, unsure if she's even still alive. Meanwhile, in Central Park, a weakened Selene kills a mugger and his victim to rejuvenate herself, then entreats the Lords Cardinal of the Hellfire Club to seek out Rachel. Though Selene deigns to kill her, Sebastian Shaw insists she's captured alive, so that the Hellfire Club may use her to their ends. Elsewhere, Nimrod detects Rachel's weakened state, and determines this is the best time to eliminate her.


In Central Park, a badly injured Rachel, holding herself together via her telekinesis, comes across Selene's victims. Enraged that they died because Wolverine stopped her from killing Selene, she psionically attacks her teammate, which tells the X-Men she is still alive. The X-Men reach Central Park, where Caliban has tracked Rachel, along with the Hellfire Club and Nimrod. The Hellfire Club finds Rachel first, thanks to a transformed Von Roehm, but the X-Men are close behind, and a fight breaks out between the two groups. Rachel slips away in the confusion, just as Nimrod appears before the X-Men and Lords Cardinal, determined to eliminate both groups.

Firsts and Other Notables
While scanning Central Park, Nimrod notes that twelve X-Men are present, seven of which are the current roster of the team (Storm, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Colossus and Phoenix). The other five are X-Factor, whom, in a little pseudo tie-in I've always enjoyed, we'll learn in issue #8 of their series are in a different part of the park dealing with a different situation. Presumably, X-Factor was never formed in Nimrod's timeline (as Jean Grey never died/was resurrected), which is why he still catalogs their members as X-Men. 


The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club is now using the term "Lords Cardinal" to describe themselves almost exclusively. Additionally, Von Roehm is once again referred to as Black Rook while Leland is the Black Bishop (the absent Pierce is, I believe, the White Bishop, at least according to the Marvel Handbook). Tension remains between Shaw and Selene, who is outwardly gunning for his role as leader of the group. Aside from Selene, they've also got a new set of hideous costumes. While Shaw's day-glo puffy sleeves and Tessa's Michael Jackson-esque face mask are pretty bad, nothing compares to Leland's inexplicable cape and headband mask.  


Selene transforms Von Roehm into a lycanthropic state, a hereditary trait found in all her high priests, and uses him to track Rachel. 


A Work in Progress
Last issue, Rogue mentioned that the Morlock Tunnels were a mile beneath the surface, and a narrative caption in this issue reiterates that factt which, as Blam pointed out in a comment on last issue's post, is patently ridiculous.

Wolverine tries to rationalize his attempt to kill Rachel to the other X-Men. It doesn't really address any of the issues inherent to his action.


Sure enough, Rachel was right: the first thing Selene does after escaping from Rachel is kill two innocent people to recharge herself.


Nimrod, still living with Jamie Rodriquez and his family and masquerading as human, finds himself experiencing feelings, and decides he needs to run a diagnosis on himself.


Caliban pops up, wearing the shirt Kitty brought him from Japan, and helps the X-Men track Rachel, though he'll shortly transistion over and become a supporting character in X-Factor.


The X-Men are communicating via "micro transceivers", convenient considering Rachel is out of action and unable to link them telepathically. 

I Love the 80s
The confrontation between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club takes place in Central Park's John Lennon Memorial Garden, Strawberry Fields. 


Artistic Achievements
Once again, we get a neat visual depiction of Rachel using her telepathy, as a series of panels comes more and more into focus as her power picks up on more thoughts (including Claremont's patented stream-of-consciousness thought bubbles). 


Rachel Summers, Crybaby
Admittedly, it's tough to throw stones at someone who is almost literally keeping their guts from spilling out through sheer force of will, but Rachel is, of course, terribly maudlin about her situation. 


For Sale
The New Universe gets another, different, full page ad in this issue. 


It's in the Mail
Letters in this issue applaud the creators for the explaining how Wolverine can smoke without consequence while illustrating the ill effects it had on Kitty in issue #196, while a response to another letter mentions the then-upcoming but ultimately-aborted Phoenix limited series, for which Rachel is being written out of the book. Also, the Classic X-Men reprint title is announced.  

Teebore's Take
This issue essentially serves as the second part of a three part arc, though Claremont structures it differently than the traditional middle chapter of a three parter. Usually, these chapters are action heavy, setting up the resolution and denouement for the final issue. Instead, Claremont uses these pages to widen the conflict, beginning with the X-Men, then the Morlocks, searching for Rachel following her encounter with Wolverine (it's never made clear how Wolverine and Rachel became separated in the first place), then adding in the Hellfire Club's own search for the girl, before they come into conflict with the X-Men. At which point, in the midst of the X-Men/Lords Cardinal tussle, Nimrod enters the fray, setting up the action packed conclusion for next issue.

Beyond that, we get more of Claremont trying to rationalize Wolverine's actions against Rachel, and once again, it doesn't quite work (nor does it make clearer the intention he has stated in a later interview) and some pretty hideous new costumes for the Lords Cardinal, which could be an intentional homage to the more traditional superhero narrative (relative to the rest of the Claremont/Romita Jr. run) on display in this arc, but I'm not sure even I want to give Romita Jr. that much credit. This is a fun issue in a fun arc, and I like the way it's constantly widening the conflict, but beyond that, there isn't much to it - which, as with last week's New Mutants issue, isn't a criticism.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the band gets back together in New Mutants #43 and Friday, X-Factor deals with its tricky public image in X-Factor #7. Next week, the conclusion to the Hellfire Club/Nimrod arc in Uncanny X-Men #209.

11 comments:

  1. Y'know, as problematic the Logan-stabs-Rachel plotpoint is, CC doesn't quite let Logan off the hook. The X-Men aren't very happy with what he has done, and Selene does end up killing some more people. CC could have omitted such scenes to make Wolverine in the right, but he doesn't.

    Interesting that Rachel has a different POV of the stabbing, perhaps some delusion to better her position in the matter. Whereas the reality was Rachel in her omnipotent Phoenix costume, looking alien and spaz-zy (as described by that second panel before the SNIKT, unless that is her reaction to getting stabbed instead of going into a spaz), she visualizes herself in her maid disguise. Whereas the real confrontation was face-to-face, Rachel delusions that Logan dirty-handedly stabbed her in the back.

    The Hellfire Club's new costumes resemble 18th century fashion. Leland's garb, rather than the jokey superhero threads you suggest they are, resemble an 18th century highwayman's of wrap-around mask and cape.

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  2. @angmc43: CC could have omitted such scenes to make Wolverine in the right, but he doesn't.

    Good point.

    Whereas the real confrontation was face-to-face, Rachel delusions that Logan dirty-handedly stabbed her in the back.

    Another good point.

    The Hellfire Club's new costumes resemble 18th century fashion.

    Huh. I never thought of it that way. It makes sense that they'd wear 18th century finery while in the club but 18th century "action gear" while in the field, so to speak. Leland has the highwayman's mask and cape as you say, while Shaw has kind of a pirate/privateer thing going and Tessa's mask a different kind of highwayman.

    Von Roehme, though, looks straight out of an 80s music video (not that he's that integral a part of the Lords Cardinal) and as much as the design of the costumes may say 18th century, the coloring sure doesn't.

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  3. I really think Claremont had other things on his mind around this time. I mentioned it a week or two ago, but it's still prevalent here: Rachel and Wolverine inexplicably separated without a flashback or even a passing line of dialogue to explain how, plus Wolverine's ridiculous characterization (see below for more on that). As was noted in the comments last week, this could be a result of lazy editing on Ann Noncenti's part, but I can't even chalk the inconsistencies of the past several months up to that. There had to be something going on behind the scenes or in Claremont's personal life.

    "The other five are X-Factor, whom, in a little pseudo tie-in I've always enjoyed, we'll learn in issue #8 of their series are in a different part of the park..."

    Y'know, I think it was this very issue that made me look up Central Park in an encyclopedia (or whatever we used before the internet) to see just how big Central Park was. I had always imagined it was normal park size, so imagine my shock upon learning it's like a million blocks long!!

    Anyway, it's cool to see that Claremont and Simonson are working in tandem almost immediately after she takes over X-Factor. They wasted no time.

    "(the absent Pierce is, I believe, the White Bishop, at least according to the Marvel Handbook)"

    I've seen him referred to as both the White Bishop and White King over the years. I think the White King thing is a misunderstanding due to the fact that, as I recall, Pierce did "crown" himself the White King when he became leader of the Reavers.

    What I want to know is where Claremont's two-decades-later idea of a "White Warrior Princess" comes into play. I've examined many chess sets, and I still can't find that piece. It must only be in the really expensive sets.

    "Aside from Selene, they've also got a new set of hideous costumes."

    John Romita Jr. at work. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating that in the 80s he was a terrible, terrible, terrible costume designer. Leland's outfit always gives me a laugh, though it's not the most dignified thing to be wearing at this moment, given the events of next issue.

    However, I see these costumes have been addressed in the comments. It never occurred to me either that these were like the "public supervillain" versions of the sort of stuff they wear around the club. Makes perfect sense!

    "Wolverine tries to rationalize his attempt to kill Rachel to the other X-Men."

    "...We're heroes. We're supposed to stand for something. If we break the rules -- throw 'em away -- why should anybody follow 'em?"

    Who is this imposter, and what has he done with the real Wolverine?? I cannot reconcile this version of the character with his earlier appearances or the majority of his later ones. The whole point of Wolverine's character is that he doesn't follow the rules!! This characterization is a huge misfire on Claremont's part.

    Also -- Romita got way too carried away on the mutton chops in that picture.

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  4. So is a mile deep just above or just below the Mole Man and his moloids? And is Tyrannus on the same level? Important questions. I agree with Matt that JRJR's costume designs were just atrocious. I don't think he designed Black Cat's new costume from around this time, but it's really the benchmark for spectacularly hideous 80's costumes. http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_large/11/117763/2458842-spectacularspider_man128.jpg

    There's definitely a sense that the book is going off the rails, as there's a lot of just really inexplicable stuff. Fortunately I like the pay-off to some of this, and we don't see Selene for awhile, so everything works out fine.

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  5. I think I always assumed "a mile beneath" meant that the "Alley" was nearly a mile long, and ran beneath the city. But I guess that isn't what CC meant. Odd.

    One inconsistency in Nimrod detecting 12 X-Men the moment he shows up, is that it implies X-Factor arrived on the scene before Nimrod.

    But over in Simonson's X-Factor, they are told -- before they go to Central Park -- that there are reports of mutants "and a robot" fighting there. Which implies Nimrod arrived on the scene before X-Factor.

    Hmmm.

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  6. I forgot to mention it in my first comment, but somehow picturing Orson Welles dressing up like Harry Leland makes that ensemble even funnier.

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  7. @Matt: I've examined many chess sets, and I still can't find that piece. It must only be in the really expensive sets.

    Or the British ones. :)

    I cannot reconcile this version of the character with his earlier appearances or the majority of his later ones. The whole point of Wolverine's character is that he doesn't follow the rules!!

    I think his statement in this issue (that you quoted) is a bit too declarative, but a case could be made that the rule-breaking Wolverine of the early issues has realistically, in the course of a hundred plus issues, evolved into someone who does value the idea that heroes are supposed to stand for something, and that there are lines they can't cross (whether Wolverine considers himself one of those heroes is debatable).

    We're firmly in the era of "Wolverine the team player", and on the verge of him even acting as the team leader for a bit, and I think those developments have evolved organically over time from his earliest days as a mouthy rabble-rouser.

    My biggest beef with his statement is the idea that he thinks heroes need to stand for something, yet its okay for him (as a hero) to kill another hero in order to stop that hero from killing a villain.

    Basically, either heroes don't kill, in which Wolverine, as a hero, shouldn't have tried to kill Rachel. Or Wolverine isn't a hero (and thus not held to the rules he applies to the other X-Men), in which case he should have killed Selene to stop Rachel from killing her, not Rachel.

    @Dobson: So is a mile deep just above or just below the Mole Man and his moloids? And is Tyrannus on the same level? Important questions.

    Ha!

    Fortunately I like the pay-off to some of this, and we don't see Selene for awhile, so everything works out fine.

    Ditto. And Selene really does disappear for awhile after this, doesn't she? She pops up in New Mutants around "Inferno", but even then, doesn't really do much. And that's about it.

    but somehow picturing Orson Welles dressing up like Harry Leland makes that ensemble even funnier.

    It does indeed.

    @Jason: I think I always assumed "a mile beneath" meant that the "Alley" was nearly a mile long, and ran beneath the city.

    I think that's how I always interpreted it as well - I certainly never thought it was a mile straight down, regardless of what narrative captions might say.

    But over in Simonson's X-Factor, they are told -- before they go to Central Park -- that there are reports of mutants "and a robot" fighting there. Which implies Nimrod arrived on the scene before X-Factor.

    Yeah, if I remember correctly, there are similarly inconsistencies between Magneto's appearance in X-Factor #9 and X-Factor's appearance (in the same scene) in X-Men #210.

    I tend to think of it as Claremont and Simonson going through growing pains in their attempts to more closely link the two books. :)

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  8. I learned a new word: Selene refers to Tessa archaically as Shaw's "leman" — an illicit lover; a mistress.

    Selene also either refers to the mugger whose life she absorbs as [a] "shimakh" after a hesitation or uses it in exclamation: "But to have to remember a creature such as this -- shimakh, the fates can be cruel." I'm not easily finding a translation or definition for that. The word seems Hebrew or Arabic and one Google result found it used for what I've previously seen called a kaffiyah (various transliterations abound) but that doesn't fit the context. I mean, okay, I can see a comic-book character shouting "By my people's ancient ritual headdress!" but I don't quite get that vibe here. Unless she's calling him a schmuck?

    // nothing compares to Leland's inexplicable cape and headband mask //

    Except perhaps the portly Von Roehm's look — sleeveless with random sashes and studded armbands.

    // Caliban pops up //

    Which is a little weird, 'cause he greets Kitty like this is the first time he's seeing her since the X-Men began staying in the Morlock tunnels after returning to NYC from SF. I know we've seen him visit the surface for a spell, like in his first appearance, but it doesn't really jibe that he'd have been away for that long.

    // Admittedly, it's tough to throw stones at someone who is almost literally keeping their guts from spilling out through sheer force of will, but Rachel is, of course, terribly maudlin about her situation. //

    I really wanted to see her complaining that, on top of it all, she's wearing that hideous red French-maid outfit.

    The next-issue box on the letters page is actually for the contents of this issue, not the first time that's happened recently as I recall.

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  9. A good solid middle chapter. Some of the details may not click, but overall, the pacing, mood, and certain character bits help sell it, and it's one of my favorite issues from the era. And crap costumes aside, the art here is really good.

    "Admittedly, it's tough to throw stones at someone who is almost literally keeping their guts from spilling out through sheer force of will, but Rachel is, of course, terribly maudlin about her situation."

    One of the few times I think she's entitled to feel the way she does, but...it's Rachel. Like Wolverine, she's the best she is at what she does.

    This issue has one of my favorite Storm-as-badass moments. The team is falling apart and getting clobbered by the Hellfire Club, and Storm pretty much tells Shadowcat to calm down as she begins to formulate a counterattack. Granted, Nimrod ends up saving her, but still.

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  10. I've been lurking the last few weeks trying to catch up on your X-Aminations and as I've finally hit the first issue of X-men an 8 year old me bought brand new off the rack, I wanted to stop in (albeit a little over a year late) and say just what an awesome job you've been doing in your read through. I'd pick up 209 new as well but wouldn't become a regular reader till 221, which makes the Claremont-Silvestri era my "classic" period. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Can't wait to catch up.

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  11. @anonymous: Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Can't wait to catch up.

    Thank you! And glad you're enjoying the reviews.

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