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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #216

"Crucible"
April 1987

In a Nutshell
Storm fights Crimson Commander, Stonewall and Super Sabre.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Jackson Guice & Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In the Adirondack Forest, a near-savage Wolverine is struck by a car, damaging the vehicle and stranding its occupants. Elsewhere, Storm and Priscilla set a trap for Super Sabre, one that will likely kill him, but when the super speedster approaches, Storm fails to spring the trap, refusing to kill, much to Priscilla's frustration. On Muir Isle, Moira MacTaggert is awakened by the arrival of the rest of the X-Men, returning to the island with the last of the massacre survivors. Back in New York, Crimson Commando and Stonewall discover the trap Storm refused to spring. Realizing she passed up an opportunity to kill Super Sabre, Stonewall begins to doubt whether Storm is really the criminal they think she is, though Crimson Commando remains certain. On a nearby ridge, Super Sabre is ambushed by Storm. Though she manages to overpower him, Priscilla triggers an avalanche, seemingly burying them both.


Later, as the stranded motorists finish repairing their vehicle, they're confronted by Priscilla, who kills them both and steals their car as an animalistic Wolverine watches from the woods. However, the car soon breaks down again, and Storm catches up to Priscilla, knocking her out and using her as bait to lure Stonewall into a bog. But when the bog begins to drag the man underwater, Storm is forced to help save his life. With Storm distracted, Priscilla attempts to kill her, but is slain in turn by Crimson Commando. As he moves to finish Storm, Wolverine arrives, his failure to save the motorists returning him to his senses. Storm challenges Crimson Commando to a duel, and though she wins in the end, she refuses to kill him, instead telling him and Stonewall to turn themselves in to the authorities. Later, Storm and Wolverine watch as the old soldiers are arrested. Wolverine says the X-Men are walking a similar path, and wonders how the X-Men can keep from making the same mistakes.    

Firsts and Other Notables
The issue ends with Crimson Commando and Stonewall turning themselves in to the New York State Police. From there, they'll be offered a place with Freedom Force and the opportunity to earn a pardon for their crimes. Super Sabre is believed to have died in the course of this issue, but he will eventually turn up alive and well and join his compatriots in Freedom Force.

 
Jackson Guice fills in on pencils, making this the sixth issue in a row to feature a different artist than the previous issue. Barry Windsor-Smith, meanwhile, provides the cover art. 

A Work in Progress
It's established this issue that the group of injured Morlocks (and X-Men) that left the mansion last issue were merely the last such group to be ferried to Muir Isle. 

Storm notes that thanks to Malice, she has a much harder time trusting her instincts.


Crimson Commando insists that Storm is the same as he is, but she argues that, tonight at least, she was better.


The issue ends with Storm asserting her unwillingness to kill her enemies even while she reiterates the desire for the X-Men to take the fight to their enemies instead of waiting to be hit and react accordingly.


I Love the 80s
Priscilla, the spoiled rich kid turned drug dealer, apparently shops at the same stores as Skids and Boom-Boom. 


Claremontisms
Priscilla refers to a fight as a "scrap", which doesn't seem to fit her character. 

When Priscilla gets mad at Storm for sparing Super Sabre, Storm tells her it was "my decision, my responsibility".


The Best There is at What He Does
It's revealed in the opening pages of this issue that smelling Jean's scent last issue, and the confusion and lack of trust in his senses that triggered forced Wolverine to slip into an animalistic state.


For Sale
The back cover features an ad for the Marvel role playing game.


It's in the Mail
One issue after apologizing for the infrequency of letter columns and catching up on letters, the letters page is missing once again. 

Teebore's Take
For all its flaws, I've always rather liked this issue. While the art is a definite step down from the Alan Davis art in the previous issue, this is always the issue that comes to mind when I think of how badass powerless Storm can be, as she manages to essentially defeat three super-powered villains with her bare hands (and a little MacGuyvering). In a lot of ways, it's also the culmination of the journey Powerless Storm has been on (in part because Storm's next big character arc finds her working to regain her powers), as she finds the balance between the harder edge she'd adopted and her more traditional principles, doing what it takes to survive but refusing to become a cold blooded killer. In the process, she regains her trust in her instincts (shaken by Malice specifically and the Marauder attack in general) and affirms her intent to lead the X-Men in a more proactive direction, taking the fight to their enemies. Thus, a balance is struck between the serene goddess and hardened warrior sides of the character.

All that said, there's no denying this is far from required reading. Though it advances a few character and plot arcs, and though we'll see these villains in the pages of X-Men again, this two-parter nevertheless has a hard time rising above its fill-in feel, and the art in this issue is a big culprit in that fact. The Storm/Crimson Commando confrontation in particular suffers: what could be seen as a reprise of the Storm/Callisto fight in issue #170, this time featuring Storm refusing to strike a killing blow as an indication of the journey her character has gone on in the ensuing issues, instead comes across as simple and pedestrian, lacking the verve and energy that Paul Smith brought to that earlier fight. As a result, the confrontation feels less like a culmination of a long running character arc and more like the routine conclusion to a gap-bridging fill-in story. Which is, for as much as I enjoy this little two-parter, particularly for the way it highlights a powerless Storm, ultimately what this story largely is.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Professor X makes a decision in New Mutants #51, followed by a turning point in Angel's life in X-Factor #15. Next week, the Juggernaut returns in Uncanny X-Men #217. 

10 comments:

  1. Nothing against Jackson Guice, he's a good artist, and while this is a decent looking issue, this is far from his best work. Had Alan Davis been involved, this would have been a much better regarded 2-parter. as it is, it does have good character work. Though you'd think Storm and Wolverine's chat in the car at the end would have been a great time for him to mention that this is the second time he's caught Jean's scent...

    I think that cover is the last time we see BWS involved with the X-men for a while, no?

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  2. @wwk5d: Though you'd think Storm and Wolverine's chat in the car at the end would have been a great time for him to mention that this is the second time he's caught Jean's scent...

    You'd think so. Like, "by the way, what caused you to go berserk?"

    "Oh, nothing."

    "Nothing? You knocked me out and left me at the mercy of three geriatric whackos. What the hell happened?!?"

    I think that cover is the last time we see BWS involved with the X-men for a while, no?

    I believe so. He's done with New Mutants covers at this point, and doesn't have any more Uncanny gigs ahead. This would be his last X-work until, what, "Weapon X" in Marvel Comics Present?

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  3. Like you, I also enjoy this two-parter for some reason. I agree the art in this installment doesn't live up to the standard set by Alan Davis previously, but the splash page of Wolverine, looking all feral on the highway, has always stuck with me.

    Storm's trap for Super Sabre is the other main item that I remember vividly. I believe he actually does meet his end by that same method years later, in Fabian Nicieza's "Freedom Force goes to Kuwait" annual backup serial.

    "Super Sabre is believed to have died in the course of this issue, but he will eventually turn up alive and well and join his compatriots in Freedom Force."

    Isn't it in the exact same issue? They've just joined Freedom Force and he shows up and they're like, "you're alive!" and he he's like "yup," and that's that. Very odd.

    "Jackson Guice fills in on pencils, making this the sixth issue in a row to feature a different artist than the previous issue."

    I realize scheduling and whatnot plays a lot into this, but it astounds me that here, near the absolute height of their popularity, the X-Men had trouble finding a regular penciler for so long. And we have one more Guice fill-in next month before the new regular penciler arrives!

    "The back cover features an ad for the Marvel role playing game."

    Yessss!! So much enjoyment came from that box. Years of it, in fact. I played regularly with my friends from roughly 1992 to 1997 or so. Then we moved on to the next edition, also from TSR, for another few years after that. Basically played Marvel RPGs all the way through middle school, high school, and college.

    Teebore & wwk5d -- I'm not sure it's stated, but isn't Wolverine explicitly hiding the fact that he smelled Jean? He thinks he's losing it (even if he has regained his humanity for now), and doesn't want Storm to know yet. Or am I misremembering?

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  4. @Matt: I believe he actually does meet his end by that same method years later, in Fabian Nicieza's "Freedom Force goes to Kuwait" annual backup serial.

    I know he dies in that story, but I didn't remember that he died in a manner similar to Storm's trap.

    Like you, that little detail has always stuck with me - another example of Claremont logically thinking through the ramifications of these super powers.

    And we have one more Guice fill-in next month before the new regular penciler arrives!

    And even then it's questionable if Silvestri's run starts with #218, or if that's just another fill-in before starting regularly in #220, since #219 features another fill-in artist.

    Either way, yeah, it's odd. The BWS and Davis stuff you can make a case for being big enough name artists that you fit them in where you can, but it definitely seems like JRjr's departure threw everyone for a loop, even though I'd be surprised if his leaving when he did was all that much of a surprise (since he left to work on Shooter's much-ballyhooed New Universe).

    isn't Wolverine explicitly hiding the fact that he smelled Jean? He thinks he's losing it (even if he has regained his humanity for now), and doesn't want Storm to know yet. Or am I misremembering?

    I don't know that it's ever made explicit, but it is pretty heavily implied that Wolverine is keeping his "I smelled Jean" stuff a secret intentionally, because he thinks he's going crazy/can't trust himself (I even think he eventually says as much when Storm finds out he knows about Jean being alive and didn't tell anyone).

    All that said, I still think it's a little silly that he's not telling her, or at least that Storm isn't more insistent in her questioning of why Wolverine went crazy and knocked her out in the process.

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  5. Teebore -- "All that said, I still think it's a little silly that he's not telling her, or at least that Storm isn't more insistent in her questioning of why Wolverine went crazy and knocked her out in the process."

    Oh yes, I agree -- this is one of my biggest pet peeves in any fiction, where a character doesn't ask an obvious question that any normal person would bring up, simply for the case of artificial suspense.

    But in this case, I was just noting that Wolverine is actively withholding information. Storm not asking about it is on her, if he wasn't planning to volunteer the reasons for what happened.

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  6. "I don't know that it's ever made explicit, but it is pretty heavily implied that Wolverine is keeping his "I smelled Jean" stuff a secret intentionally, because he thinks he's going crazy/can't trust himself (I even think he eventually says as much when Storm finds out he knows about Jean being alive and didn't tell anyone). "

    So ... if he eventually says as much, then it IS made explicit. :)

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  7. The thing is, the first time Wolverine catches Jean's scent is during Mutant Massacre...which was before the incident with Malice where everyone begins doubting themselves. It seems like another plot contrivance to keep the teams apart, and to keep the X-men from learning about Jean's resurrection. Kind of like Magneto not telling the X-men he saw a redhead he assumed was Maddie hanging out with X-factor in Uncanny #210...

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  8. @Jason: So ... if he eventually says as much, then it IS made explicit. :)

    Touche. :)

    I think what I was trying to say was that Wolverine didn't make it explicit *in this issue*, even it does become explicit later. But that could have been written better.

    @wwk5d: It seems like another plot contrivance to keep the teams apart, and to keep the X-men from learning about Jean's resurrection.

    Oh, definitely. And I wouldn't mind the two groups of characters being kept apart if they weren't constantly teasing them coming together, the end result being really bizarre character actions that read like nothing more than the obvious teases they are.

    Basically, have the teams run into each other or don't, but don't try to do both at once.

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  9. Comment from Blam: The art's nothing special, to say the least. Either despite or because of that, however, Claremont's scripting rises to — or past — the occasion. Some of the dialogue is still clunky, of course, but the captions during the opening sequence with Storm in the woods are Claremontian in the best sense; also, her interior monologue and her dialogue with Wolverine actually tie what had been a major detour from the main plot back into the X-Men's new status quo in a serious way. Jason backed me up on this years before I even said it over in his post. 8^)

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  10. Comment from Blam: I meant to add that if the mercenary WWII retcon trio end up in Freedom Force, Storm actually should have taken them out. Given that she's only met them this once and they do turn themselves over to the authorities, it's not exactly a "let the damn cops shoot Joker already 'cause he's only gonna break out of Arkham to kill again" situation, and her mercy is entirely appropriate, but it sounds like it's going to bite her in the butt.

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