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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #218

"Charge of the Light Brigade"
June 1987

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men fight Juggernaut. 

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

Plot
In New Mexico, Alex Summers and Lorna Dane are run off the road by a speeding VW bus. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Dazzler regains consciousness only to realize that Juggernaut, believing her dead, has buried her alive in a makeshift cairn. After Psylocke makes telepathic contact with her, she manages to absorb enough energy from the ambient sound around her to send up a flare, directing the X-Men to her location. Just then, the X-Men hear reports on the radio of the Juggernaut tearing up Edinburgh. Rogue flies the team to the city, and they confront the villain. Attacking him one-on-one, they're unable to stop him, but they regroup and attack as a team. Rogue kisses him, absorbing a portion of his power and enabling her to rip off his skullcap. Dazzler is then able to laser off his skullcap, leaving him vulnerable to Psylocke's mental attack as Rogue and Longshot manage to stop a passenger train in danger of derailing as a result of the damage done by the fight.


Later, as the X-Men assist in the cleanup and the local authorities arrive to take away Juggernaut, the X-Men learn that his attack was just a diversion, meant to keep the authorities distracted while Juggernaut's partner, Black Tom Cassidy, robbed the Bank of Scotland. Though Rogue rankles at falling for the diversion like amateurs, Psylocke points out that at least they gained experience working as a team. Meanwhile, back in New Mexico, Alex and Lorna track the errant VW bus back to a deserted campsite and, nearby, a crashed Starshark. With horror, they realize it means the alien Brood have arrived on Earth

Firsts and Other Notables
Marc Silvestri (credited here as "Mark Sylvestri") makes his Uncanny X-Men debut with this issue. He is the series new regular penciller, though it's debatable whether or not this issue marks the formal beginning of his run: on the one hand, a different penciller draws the next issue, before Silvestri returns for a string of uninterrupted issues. On the other hand, his run will be notable for its very-modern tendency to consistently feature fill-in artists, so having a fill-in immediately after his run starts won't, in hindsight, seem that odd.

Silvestri marks the first of the seven Image founders to pencil an X-Book regularly (he previously filled in on X-Factor, while fellow Image founder Whilce Portacio has previously guest inked on X-Men and New Mutants). By the time of the Image Exodus in 1992, an event which had significant ramifications on comic books in general but especially for the X-Men, four of the seven founders will be leaving X-Books (Silvestri having handed off Uncanny to first Jim Lee then Whilce Portacio and moving over to Wolverine's solo series).

Alex and Lorna's discovery of a Brood Starshark (named here for the first time after appearing in the previous Brood story arc) sets up a story that won't be returned to until issue #232 (at which point the circumstances of the driver who ran Alex and Lorna off the road will be revealed), though Alex and Lorna's involvement in this issue sets up their appearances in the next.


The Chronology Corner
The flashback fill-in story that comprises most of issue #228 is considered to occur between this issue and the next.

A Work in Progress
It's been mentioned before, but it's noted that Alex is studying geology, while Lorna is a student of archaeology. As the issue opens, it finds them in New Mexico, which has been their home since they left the X-Men after Giant-Size X-Men #1 (not including time spent as Erik the Red's brainwashed flunkies).

In a neat detail, though Psylocke is unable to read Juggernaut's mind due to his helmet, she is able to locate him by zeroing in on the panicked thoughts of those people who are encountering him. 


Rogue once again kisses Juggernaut to steal a portion of his power, something it's noted she did in Marvel Team-Up #150. In a neat artistic detail, as Rogue absorbs Juggernaut's strength, his muscles get smaller, causing his arms bands to slide down to his wrists.


As the X-Men hand over Juggernaut to the authorities, both Psylocke and Dazzler use their powers to help protect the X-Men's identities, a precursor to their post-"Fall of the Mutants" condition.


I Love the 80s
Remember kids, seat belts save lives!


I assume the Dark Carnival in the background of this panel is a reference to a real store, though I don't know the story behind it nor who placed it in the panel.


Brigadier Lethbridge-Stuart and Sgt-Major Benton, the local authorities to whom the X-Men give Juggernaut, meanwhile, are Dr. Who references.

Artistic Achievements
Continuing the clever exploration of Dazzler's powers, here she is able to recharge herself after her fight with the Juggernaut (while buried alive) by absorbing the relatively minor and mundane sounds around her, which results in some more great sound effects/lettering from Orzechowski.   


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops Rogue
Rogue reminds us all that she must keep her distance for fear of accidentally touching someone and absorbing their memories and abilities.


For Sale
Okay, it can't possibly get more 80s than this: an ad for the VHS release of a skateboarding movie starring Josh Brolin called Thrashin'


Bullpen Bulletins
Jim Shooter discusses Marvel's then-recent acquisition by New World Pictured Ltd in this issue, suggesting this will lead to a series of Marvel TV and movie projects. Obviously, this won't turn out to be the case (at least not directly), and according to Sean Howe's excellent book on the history of Marvel, at least one New World executive believed that by purchasing Marvel, New World was acquiring the company that made Superman comics and all the rights to that character. 

Teebore's Take
This issue is notable for featuring Marc Silvestri's first work on the title (and, arguably, serving as the beginning of his tenure as the book's new regular penciller). He immediately brings a chic sexiness to the characters, something that will continue throughout his run, but with Dan Green on hand as inker, the art stays consistent with the grittiness Green brought to Romita Jr.'s pencils, continuing to augment the tone Claremont has set for the book (this issue is also notable for being a one of the more egregious examples of Claremont's tendency to setup a plot only to leave it dangling for months on end, with its introduction of what will become the long-simmering Brood arc).

Beyond that, this is a fairly straightforward X-Men vs. Juggernaut fight. Picking up where last issue's training session left off, the purpose of the fight is to put the "junior" members of the X-Men, led by the not-quite-a-senior, not-quite-a-junior Rogue, on display, showing them coming together and gelling as teammates, rather than as a collection of individuals. In that regard, the story succeeds, and if it all seems a bit old-fashioned in terms of structure (the X-Men try to stop Juggernaut, get beaten back, then regroup and succeed), the ending, in which it's revealed the entire fight was just a distraction while Black Tom robbed a bank, helps keep the story firmly in Claremont's recent tradition of post-modern heroics: the X-Men are victorious in physically defeating Juggernaut, and have gained a much-needed lesson in teamwork, but at the end of the day, they still lose, as killing time getting beaten up by the X-Men is exactly what the Juggernaut wanted.

Next Issue
The New Mutants go to a party in New Mutants #53 and X-Factor meets Rictor in X-Factor #17. Next week: the return of the Impossible Man in New Mutants Annual #3.

17 comments:

  1. "Marc Silvestri (credited here as "Mark Sylvestri")"

    Well, according to you, CC is credited as "Chris Clare" ;)

    "As the X-Men hand over Juggernaut to the authorities, both Psylocke and Dazzler use their powers to help protect the X-Men's identities"

    I can understand creative use of powers...but dang, that's some focus from Alison, isn't it? Though the part were she's buried and recharging is pretty cool, though.

    And kind of funny to see Rogue and Dazzler high-fiving each other at this point...

    "He immediately brings a chic sexiness to the characters, something that will continue throughout his run"

    I like his art up until Inferno. There is a certain T&A cheesiness to his women, but it still has a cartoonish effect to it. Post Inferno, he seems to be tracing women out of a porn magazine (see the cover of Uncanny # 246, as an example).

    "the purpose of the fight is to put the "junior" members of the X-Men, led by the not-quite-a-senior, not-quite-a-junior Rogue, on display"

    Good assessment ;)

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  2. wwk5d: Well, according to you, CC is credited as "Chris Clare" ;)

    D'oh! Apparently I got a little overzealous with the backspace button when I was removing "penciler" for "artists". It's been fixed.

    (I also now realize I meant to point out that the cover is done by Art Adams, and contains some iconic images that would show up on various bits of X-Men licensing/merchandising. Oh well).

    I can understand creative use of powers...but dang, that's some focus from Alison, isn't it?

    Must be. For that matter, a telepath affecting a large group of people seems like a pretty typical move for most telepaths, but it must be tremendously difficult, since they probably have to go from mind to mind altering perceptions.

    There is a certain T&A cheesiness to his women, but it still has a cartoonish effect to it. Post Inferno, he seems to be tracing women out of a porn magazine

    For the most part, I like his art throughout his run on Uncanny, though it suffers from inconsistent inking towards the end (and I haven't read any of his Wolverine stuff), but he definitely gets more porn-y as he goes along, climaxing (see what I did there?) after he helps found Image.

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  3. "I also now realize I meant to point out that the cover is done by Art Adams, and contains some iconic images that would show up on various bits of X-Men licensing/merchandising."

    True, it's a good cover, but the AA cover for the Savage Land annual for the "Evolutionary War" crossover is even more iconic. They even crop off Wolverine, Psylocke, Havoc, and Colossus for the corner box for a while.

    "Must be. For that matter, a telepath affecting a large group of people seems like a pretty typical move for most telepaths, but it must be tremendously difficult, since they probably have to go from mind to mind altering perceptions."

    Yeah, it sounds easy when they say they do it, but it must take some skill. I was referring more to what Alison does, projecting a specific frequency to disrupt cameras and what-not. Who knew she had that much control over her powers. Was this the only time we ever saw her do that?

    "climaxing (see what I did there?)"

    Rim shot, please!

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  4. I've always liked the bit with Dazzler recharging herself off of ambient sounds. Agreed that Orzechowski really helps to sell it.

    I think I would consider this the formal start of Silverstri's run. No particular reason why, though.

    Also, the year-plus delay of the star shark story has to be Claremont's longest abandoned sub-plot to date, right? He may have had something that ran longer, but nothing that was introduced then immediately dropped completely for such a long time! I blame Ann Nocenti.

    (Not that it would've affected the timing of the story so late in the game, but issue #232 just happens to be the first to feature Bob Harras credited as editor...)

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  5. @wwk5d: Who knew she had that much control over her powers. Was this the only time we ever saw her do that?

    It's the only time I can think of offhand. And yeah, it must take a lot of control (and knowledge, in terms of knowing what frequency to use).

    @Matt:
    I think I would consider this the formal start of Silverstri's run. No particular reason why, though.


    I always have in the past, for similarly unknown reasons, but I realized it's easy enough to make an argument for #220 being the "official" start to his run.

    Also, the year-plus delay of the star shark story has to be Claremont's longest abandoned sub-plot to date, right?

    I guess it depends on how you consider the Adversary story - first introduced in #187-#188, then largely forgotten until he starts getting built up into the main antagonist for "Fall of the Mutants" in the 220s. So that's, like, ~30 issues worth of dangling, compared to the 14 issues between #218 and #232.

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  6. Ah yes, now we're talking. It seems we all have our favorite eras. Matt the Byrne/Cockrum years, Teebore the Paul Smith/Romita Jr, but my favorite period of Claremont's X-Men has got to be the Silvestri/Outback era. I think Claremont was fully working at the top of his game here as a writer; more confident in letting the art showcase the action(there's little of the WORDSWORDSWORDS everywhere you'd fine a Claremont/Byrne issue like "Demon"), his prose just that much better, and his stories have an such unpredictable energy to them. Mutant Massacre has freed the X-Men from the shackles of the X-Mansion, and soon away from the country entirely. The X-Men are wild and sexy under Silvestri's pencils, and they feel all-new again. Some of my favorite X-Stories go down here, including Broodfall and my all-time favorite Claremont story, A Green and Present Land(the original Genosha story). Yes, good times are ahead.

    Silvestri/Green's work is the kind of leap Byrne/Austin was back in the day, it feels like its from the future. I'm so in love with his figure work, all the little details, his great pacing and skill for staging an action sequence. Eventually he and a lot of his Image compatriots would go for a more style over substance kinda thing, but here, he's got a wonderful grasp on sequential storytelling. I love 'em.

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  7. That is one hell of a cover. It just pops. Unfamiliar characters ready to kick some ass and prove themselves X-Men. It must have felt at the time like this book could go anywhere or do anything. No over-saturated market resulting in stagnant character development, no status quo resets every year, and no larger MU as a whole imposing a line wide "direction". Nope, this was it's own book and it was gonna punch you in the balls, ready or not.

    On a side note, is this really the first time since Giant-Size #1 and the formation of the new team that Lorna and Alex have made an appearance of any significance? Did I read that right? I know they were on that one-off reserve X-Men team, but were they just floating around on the fringes most of the time? Seems crazy in retrospect. Not Banshee crazy, but still.

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  8. Yeah, while I had a few issues before this one, this one really feels like the start of something new. The art is key--I always loved Silvestri's work. (I suppose his drawing of the female form could have had something to do with that.) This was a big issue for me. It really helped set the stage for the new roster, new home base, new artist, etc.

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  9. "On a side note, is this really the first time since Giant-Size #1 and the formation of the new team that Lorna and Alex have made an appearance of any significance? Did I read that right?"

    Depends on how you define "significant" appearances, but I don't think it's true that they've been living in New Mexico since leaving the team.

    From issues 108-129, Lorna and Alex were living on Muir Island with Moira.

    I suppose one could argue that that was an extended vacation but ... they sure seemed to make themselves at home during that period.

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  10. Teebore -- "I guess it depends on how you consider the Adversary story..."

    Oops, you're totally right! I can't believe I forgot that nearly three year-long dropped plotline! That must be the record as of this time.

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  11. "The flashback fill-in story that comprises most of issue #228 is considered to occur between this issue and the next. "

    Sometimes the chronologists confuse me. Wouldn't it make more sense to put that adventure in between 220 and 221?

    But, anyway. I'm heartened to see so much love for this issue, and the era it inaugurates. This was my second-issue ever of X-Men and I have loved it for 25 years, despite originally having virtually no context for its contents.

    Here's what I wrote about it five years ago ...

    http://geoffklock.blogspot.com/2009/05/jason-powell-on-uncanny-x-men-218.html

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  12. @Jeremy: The X-Men are wild and sexy under Silvestri's pencils, and they feel all-new again. Some of my favorite X-Stories go down here, including Broodfall and my all-time favorite Claremont story, A Green and Present Land(the original Genosha story).

    I've never considered the Outback era a personal favorite, but I've gained a much greater critical appreciation for it in recent years (helped along in large part by Jason Powell's reviews of those issues). It's definitely a period where Claremont, free of the restraint of the traditional superhero story structure, starts to experiment more. The end result can be, at times, maddening in its lack of tradition, but at other times, exciting and refreshing.

    And I'm a big fan of "A Green and Pleasant Land", which is perhaps the most pure and effective use of the mutant/civil rights metaphor.

    As we get deeper and deeper into this era, be sure to point out the stuff you enjoy: every era needs its supporters trumpeting its virtues. :)

    @Dan: is this really the first time since Giant-Size #1 and the formation of the new team that Lorna and Alex have made an appearance of any significance?

    For the most part, yeah. They were Erik the Red's pawns early in the Claremont/Cockrum run, but that amounted to one issue of fighting the X-Men and a couple where they hung around as Erik's thralls. Then they ended up on Muir Isle for a long time (up through the Dark Phoenix Saga), during which both made an appearance (and Havok starred in) in a Marvel Team-Up story I didn't cover and hung around while Jean dealt with being Phoenix.

    Both fought alongside the X-Men during the Proteus saga, but didn't feature heavily in the story. They next popped up for the Reserve X-Men story (which established they were back in New Mexico) but that's been about it, aside from token appearances like when Cyclops introduced Havok to Corsair or when Cyclops and Maddie got married.

    @Johnny: The art is key--I always loved Silvestri's work.

    I've always been more of a Lee guy than Silvestri, but as I've gained more appreciation for the Outback Era, I've gained more appreciation for Silvestri's art. I certainly like it more here than any of his Image stuff, where the cheesecake/T&A really gets out of control.

    @Jason: I suppose one could argue that that was an extended vacation but ... they sure seemed to make themselves at home during that period.

    They most definitely did make themselves at home during that period, but it still feels a little like an extended vacation to me simply because they went from New Mexico to Muir Isle then back to New Mexico (and, presumably, to the same place therein).

    That said, I *could* argue that my comment "not including time spent as Erik the Red's brainwashed flunkies" was meant to include their time on Muir Isle, since that's why they ostensibly went there in the first place (to recover from it). But I won't argue that, cuz in reality I pretty much just forgot about their extended Muir Isle stay when I wrote that bit. :)

    Wouldn't it make more sense to put that adventure in between 220 and 221?

    Honestly, I think I've read it once (and promptly forgot most of it), so I'm just going off the Official Index's notation at this point. Maybe there's something in it that sets the story before the X-Men fully abandon the mansion in X-Men #219/annual #11?

    At any rate, when I do read it again, I'll keep my eye out for any such indications.

    Here's what I wrote about it five years ago ...

    As I mentioned above, your reviews of this issue (and the other Outback Era stuff) gave me a greater critical appreciation for this era; I'm excited to read through them again.

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  13. Muir Island really was the dumping ground for unused characters, wasn't it? It's like the Island of Misfit Toys over there. Was there anything to actually do on the island besides recover from something or have Moira run tests on you? Did they have shuffle board courts? A pool? A satellite that picked up Shi'ar channels? One would think that hanging around Moira and laboratories all days would get a little stale.

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  14. I always thought Muir Island was a laid back place to recover from the traumatic experiences of being a superhero - pubs, nice scenery, friendly locals and a hop skip and a jump to many parts of Europe...So while I noticed that it was a dumping ground, it never seemed too strange to me as it made sense. Especially considering how stressful the life of an X-Man was. A typical day probably involved mandated weight room/gym conditioning, sessions in the Danger Room, learning paramilitary skills and etc. As early as X-Men #1, I believe, Jean was using telekinesis to assemble a rifle. That was probably the day to day fun.

    Anyway, I love this era. I guess it has to do with me not being an actual fan of the superhero genre, even as a kid. Something about them travelling the globe and having a very personal, concrete goal ("Hunt down the Marauders, Hunt down the Reavers...") was refreshing compared to the typical fare on the market at the time. The Avengers during this period had a revolving door of members and everybody was on the team facing a multitude of unimportant villains. I agree that this was a high point for the series, and strangely enough, it's not nostalgia that keeps me coming back to the stories - I enjoyed Jim Lee's '90s era fine enough, but something about the organic way this team operated seems like the quintessential X-Men team dynamics - reluctant citizen superheroes.

    And I found both the male and female characters very sexy, as well, so there was a lot of beefcake to be had for ladies and gay or bi men.

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  15. "Honestly, I think I've read it once (and promptly forgot most of it), so I'm just going off the Official Index's notation at this point. Maybe there's something in it that sets the story before the X-Men fully abandon the mansion in X-Men #219/annual #11?"

    There's a Danger Room sequence in it. But there's also a Danger Room sequence in issue 221. The opening of that issue is set in the mansion, so they haven't completely abandoned it in issue 219.

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  16. Comment from Malsim: I am so glad I found this blog and it seems my timing is just perfect because you are starting onwhat I see as the best period of X-men history.
    I remember falling in love with Silvestri's style as soon as I read this issue (actually maybe in the X-Factor issue where they persue Boomer) and he still influences my artwork to this day. I'm pretty certain his sexyness both in women and men are what made him stand out for me that much but it's also the sketchy vibe this work had (mostly due to Dan Green's influence).
    I had been reading X-Men since the Mutant Massacre and JRJR's run comes at a close second to Silvestri's, but there was an added hopelesness to this time especially after the Fall of Mutants.
    I cannot wait to continue reading your reviews.

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  17. Lorna couldn't have used her powers to lift the Jeep upright before they crashed?

    Another '80s reference from Claremont and/or Orzechowski for whatever reason: Pg. 17 has the sound effect "RAMBO!"

    I found myself wondering when Alex would've seen pictures of the "starshark" back at the mansion, a quizzicality that you-all's discussion of when he and Lorna had last been around reinforced. Clearly it happened when everyone was catching up at Scott's wedding. Which means that I'm picturing Scott reviewing the trip with Alex like Chevy Chase in Fletch: "Here's the giant space fish that the Brood travel in… Kitty's Party... Wolverine vowing to kill us all if necessary... The Mormon Tabernacle... Storm reborn in touch with the entire universe…"

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