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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #219

"Where Duty Lies"
July 1987

In a Nutshell 
Havok re-joins the X-Men while Polaris is possessed by Malice. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Guest Penciler: Bret Blevins
Inker: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorists: Glynis Oliver & Petra Scotese
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In New Mexico, Alex awakens from a recurring dream in which he visits the X-Mansion only to be hunted and killed by the X-Men. Having experienced the dream every night since he returned from checking in with the X-Men in New York, he resolves to return there and confirm everything is still okay. The next morning, Lorna takes him to the airport as the Marauders watch. In New York, Alex finds the mansion deserted and, seeing an entry in Magneto's diary for that afternoon, decides to visit him at the Hellfire Club. Back in New Mexico, the Marauders attack Lorna. At the Hellfire Club, a distrustful Alex meets with Magneto, who tells him that if he needs to contact the X-Men, he can do so through Magneto, prompting Alex to angrily storm off. In New Mexico, Lorna fights back against the Marauders, trapping Sabretooth in rock before being hit by an energy blast from Scalphunter's gun. In New York, Alex tails Magneto as he enters the Morlock Tunnels, and comes across a meeting of the X-Men, at which point Alex is discovered.


In New Mexico, Lorna suddenly turns the tide against the Marauders, capturing Arclight and Scalphunter in addition to Sabretooth. In the Morlock Tunnels, the X-Men discuss what to do with Alex, revealing that Psylocke altered his memories of his last visit to protect him, with his recurring dreams being attempts by his mind to deal with those altered memories. When he's told about the Marauders and their attack on the Morlocks and the X-Men, Alex realizes he has a responsibility to help, and rejoins the team. Back in New Mexico, a triumphant Lorna gloats over the captured Marauders, revealing herself to have been possessed by Malice, her fight with the Marauders devised by Mr. Sinister to test Lorna's abilities under the control of Malice. Having emerged triumphant, she declares herself the leader of the Marauders.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Havok re-joins the X-Men in this issue, marking the beginning of his second (and lengthiest) tenure on the team, following his brief original stint towards the end of the book's Silver Age run. His motivation for returning is fairly routine (learning of the threat of the Marauders and realizing the sorry state of mutant kind, he recognizes he has a responsibility to use his power to make things better and joins up), though no mention is made of the Brood ship he and Lorna encountered in the previous issue (presumably, it accounted for his initial visit to the X-Men, the one that got mind-wiped out and triggered his nightmares, though one wonders why Lorna didn't bring it up before he left again, or why, if he told the X-Men about it during his initial visit, they did nothing about it).

Meanwhile, Polaris gets possessed by Malice and joins the Marauders, assuming the position of their field leader, a status quo for the character that will last until shortly after "Inferno". This marks the third time in the character's history that she's come under the sway of a villain, having arguably spent more time that way than as a hero at this point. Mr. Sinister, as the overall leader of the Marauders, gets another mention two issues removed from his first appearance.


Though he remains the headmaster of the school for awhile yet (and thus a fixture in New Mutants), this marks the last time Magneto appears as a member of the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men. Though he chronologically appears as a member of the team in the ensuing "versus" series, the next time he appears in Uncanny will be issue #230, a point after which his connection to the X-Men is considered to be severed following their "deaths" in issue #227. This issue also reveals Magneto's adoption of the "Michael Xavier", Professor Xavier's older cousin, identity to anyone who only reads Uncanny X-Men and not New Mutants.

Havok overhears Storm discussing a plan to fake the X-Men's death in order to protect their loved ones and associates from the Marauders; this will eventually be established as the "Plan Omega" to which Storm alluded in New Mutants #51, and will be put into effect, in a manner of speaking, in the wake of "Fall of the Mutants". 


After Havok tracks the X-Men down for a second time, proving himself immune to Psylocke's attempts at mindwipes, Psylocke suggests the X-Men kill him, better he be dead than potentially possessed and used against them. Even putting aside the faults in this logic (mindwiped, he could still be possessed by Malice, and even if he was possessed, the X-Men have proven it's possible to break free of her control), it also inadvertently underlines the fact that for all the X-Men's talk of protecting their loved ones and associates from the Marauders, nobody bothered to check on Havok and Polaris in the wake of the massacre. Dazzler, yes, Sara Grey, yes, Havok & Polaris, no. Granted, the X-Men may have assumed that, as former members of the team, they could take care of themselves, but a heads up phone call about the Marauders' existence was probably in order nonetheless.


Art in this issue comes from Brett Blevins, just a month removed from the beginning of his tenure on New Mutants, making him the eighth penciller to work on the book in its last nine issues. Fortunately, the constant stream of artists comes to an end next issue.

The Chronology Corner
The gap between this issue and #220 is another one of those gaps into which a lot of ancillary material fits (mainly because Havok rejoins the team in this issue but appears as a member in much of that ancillary material). In addition to the two limited series and the annual we'll be looking at over the next couple weeks, Wolverine, between this issue and Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1, appears in the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot, followed by Web of Spider-Man #29 (which follows on from the one shot). As that story is more Spider-Man-centric than Wolverine-centric (dealing as it does with the death of a long time Spidey supporting character as well as the ongoing Hobgoblin mystery), I'm not reviewing it, but this is where it fits, chronologically. 

Magneto's appearance in this issue occurs after New Mutants #54.

A Work in Progress
The cover of this issue gives us a variation on the old "Welcome to the X-Men ____, hope you survive the experience!" line.  

Havok, recalling in his dream his first visit to the mansion, notes that Cerebro has been destroyed. He also notes that he hardly knows these current X-Men.


Further suggesting a connection between the characters, Sabretooth uses the words "skirt" and "frail", just like Wolverine.

Unable to locate the X-Men and suspicious of Magneto, Havok tries to contact the Avengers but discovers their mansion destroyed, due to the events of the "Under Siege" storyline, in Avengers #270-277.


Similarly, he calls Moira (the narration suggests he can't remember her name, though he lived with her for a good long while prior to the "Dark Phoenix Saga") for help but reaches instead an unhelpful Callisto. When he asks her about Cyclops (suggesting he hasn't spoken to his brother in awhile), a bus with an X-Factor ad on the side drives by behind him.


Reaching the Morlock Tunnels, Havok notices that the walls of the tunnels have been scoured by some kind of energy blast, a reference to the blast triggered by Thor in Thor #374.

Claremontisms
There's several neat little touches involving Havok and Polaris' powers in this issue. After waking up from his dream, his body bristling with energy, he runs outside to release it, blasting into the sky, thankful the shuttle isn't in space at the time and hoping no jets are passing overhead, and the heat from his blast turns the ground beneath his feet into glass.


Later Polaris notes that one of the reasons she and Havok live where they do is due to the high iron content in the local rocks, enabling her to use them against the Marauders. 


Teebore's Take
This is a bit of an odd issue. It's purpose is to re-introduce Havok and Polaris, whom Claremont has little used thus far in his run, giving the former a place on the new post-Massacre roster and setting up the latter as a new Marauder. In that regard, the issue does its job. Beyond that rudimentary success, though, the issue feels very much like a fill-in. Some of that comes from the art: though inconsistent art is one of the few consistent things in this run of Uncanny X-Men, wedged as it is between Marc Silvestri's first work on the title and the beginning of his extended run, the art in this issue feels like more of a fill-in than the art in the previous issues.

Beyond the art, though, Claremont seems to have a loose handle on Havok's character and history, which further adds to the fill-in feel. While he rounds out (for now) what is the full post-Massacre roster, his joining feels almost like an afterthought (aided, in part, by the fact that Havok has already appeared elsewhere, in terms of publication dates, in stuff like the Fantastic Four vs. X-Men series). Even putting aside the way this issue inadvertently points out that the X-Men largely ignored Havok and Polaris prior to this issue, it comes several issues after Psylocke, Dazzler, and Longshot joined up, and immediately after the issue in which the purpose of the story therein was to start these new recruits on the path towards becoming a team, making his arrival feel more like a forgotten add-on to an already-complete roster than the final piece of said roster. 

Additionally, Claremont writes Havok as though he was a longstanding member of the original team (Havok mentions bad memories of being at the school, and shares the original five's distrust of Reformed Magneto), despite the fact that he was a member for all of a handful of issues (and never battled Magneto himself). Then, of course, there's the whole dropped Brood storyline, which doesn't get a mention despite Claremont setting it up just last issue. So while this issue is notable for re-introducing Havok and Polaris, two characters who will, from this point onward, consistently play a significant role in both Uncanny X-Men and the greater franchise for years to come, it reads like it was written by a different author, which, combined with some ill-timed guest art, makes the whole thing feel more like a fill-in than it probably should.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Chris Claremont bids farewell to the New Mutants in New Mutants #54, followed on Friday by more Scott freakouts in X-Factor #18. Next week, the X-Men battle the Fantastic Four for the life of Kitty in Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1-4.

8 comments:

  1. I have to say, despite the "guest/fill-in issue feel" you pointed out, I actually do like this issue. I always thought this was one of Brett Blevins stronger X-related issues, and I liked it more than much of his New Mutants book. Maybe Dan Green on inks helped?

    As for the story itself...yeah, it seems a bit wonky to not have the X-men contact Alex & Lorna, and at least warn them about the Marauders and current events with the X-men. And yes, it seems like CC forgot they used to live on Muir Island. And yes, Psylocke's solution is a bit much.

    But...this issue does capture the mood of the era well. The dark, dangerous, anything can happen mood of the post Mutant Massacre era comes off really well. And it does also set up the distrust between Havok and Psylocke, which CC does get some mileage out of later.

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  2. I've always liked this issue for the "sense of impending dread" feeling that surrounds it, but I agree that it feels more like a fill-in than an issue by the book's regular writer.

    Also, the fumbling of the starshark sub-plot begins here, and lasts, as we discussed last time, for a good long while. I'm continually astounded at this point by the number of balls Claremont consistently forgets that he's juggling.

    "Psylocke suggests the X-Men kill him, better he be dead than potentially possessed and used against them. Even putting aside the faults in this logic (mindwiped, he could still be possessed by Malice, and even if he was possessed, the X-Men have proven it's possible to break free of her control), it also inadvertently underlines the fact that for all the X-Men's talk of protecting their loved ones and associates from the Marauders, nobody bothered to check on Havok and Polaris in the wake of the massacre."

    The suggestion is also grossly out of character for Betsy Braddock, at least at this point in her life and career. I seriously doubt she was so scarred by the mutant massacre that she would suggest the murder of a man she's just met in order to keep a secret.

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  3. I was honestly shocked by how callous Storm's and Betsy's behavior was- they tampered with Alex's memories using a procedure that could have caused him to lose control of his powers while he slept. What if Alex fell asleep on a bus or a plane?
    "The suggestion is also grossly out of character for Betsy Braddock, at least at this poin

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  4. @wwk5d: I have to say, despite the "guest/fill-in issue feel" you pointed out, I actually do like this issue.

    For the most part, I do to. I'm just kinda fascinated by the "fill-in" feel of it, especially relative to all the other issues around it.

    Maybe Dan Green on inks helped?

    Definitely. I don't mind Blevins early on New Mutants, but his work seems to get sloppier and more tedious later in the run. I'm not sure if that's due to a change in inkers, or me just getting tired of it, but I'm going to watch for that as we move through the run.

    The dark, dangerous, anything can happen mood of the post Mutant Massacre era comes off really well.

    Indeed. There's a great tone to this issue - it captures Havok's paranoia and sense of ill-ease well.

    @Matt: Also, the fumbling of the starshark sub-plot begins here, and lasts, as we discussed last time, for a good long while.

    "Fumbling" suggests an ongoing mishandling of it - it's more that he just straight up forgets about it. I'm pretty sure it isn't even mentioned/alluded to between #218 and #232.

    But yeah, you're point stands. I'm just being pedantic. :)

    I seriously doubt she was so scarred by the mutant massacre that she would suggest the murder of a man she's just met in order to keep a secret.

    Yeah, I like to think she makes the suggestion not only to keep the secret but also to keep him from becoming a pawn of Malice (logic which has its own problems, which I pointed out), but either way, that she made the suggestion at all seems grossly out of character. Heck, it would seem out of character even for Wolverine, simply because it's such a pointless and illogical resolution to the problem.

    @Anonymous:What if Alex fell asleep on a bus or a plane?

    There is no element of their plan that seems very well thought out.

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  5. Some of the storytelling during this era does get strange -- such as the disjointed way Longshot and Havok are introduced as members, and that shark subplot. I'm not sure what was happening behind the scenes, but the book does feel a little too chaotic for a few issues here. (I will say that Claremont probably assumed Havok served as an X-Men during the team's limbo/cancellation era, since I think he was with the team again in GIANT-SIZED #1.)

    I remember people being livid with Psylocke's suggestion in the letters page.

    I do like where all of this is heading, though. Polaris as Malice was a great idea. Reading the Havok/Malice material as CLASSIC X-MEN was reprinting earlier stories with Havok/Polaris simultaneously made it all feel very poignant to me as a kid.

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  6. @G. Kendall: I'm not sure what was happening behind the scenes, but the book does feel a little too chaotic for a few issues here.

    I've always wondered about that. Like, was it just a case of Nocenti not staying on top of Claremont, or Claremont having to change his Massacre plans faster than he expected to, or being told he had to work in a now-annual crossover, so things got rushed/jumbled as he started setting up "Fall of Mutants" perhaps sooner than he intended?

    Probably some combination of the three, but I've read very little speaking to the behind-the-scenes stuff of this particular era, so it's hard to know for sure.

    I do like where all of this is heading, though. Polaris as Malice was a great idea.

    Ditto and ditto. I love Polaris as Malice, it's such a classic superhero angst plotline, making the girlfriend of a hero a villain. Though, embarrassingly, for all the times I've read this issue, re-reading it for this post was the first time I consciously noticed that the issue isn't about Havok rejoining the X-Men, it's about Havok and Polaris BOTH rejoining the conflict, but on opposite sides.

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  7. Why the long faces, everyone?

    The fact that most of the story was told from an uncertain Havok's perspective helped sell the jarring shift to this fledgling, (literally) underground paradigm from the past few issues' worth of story. I was surprised to see the newer X-Men back in NYC and the whole group, minus Wolverine but including Magnento, gathered in the Morlock tunnels. So Havok as a POV character being off-balance just as I, the reader, was — it jibed; the revelation that Alex had recently traveled to the mansion, been mind-wiped, and sent home more-than-implied that time had passed and provided an appropriately fuzzy entry to the present crossroads.

    For what it's worth, I felt that Psylocke's mention of Wolverine's "kill him" option was [a] quite different than if she or Storm had made such a suggestion entirely on their own and [b] not so much an actual recommendation, despite the fact that Havok believes Storm is seriously considering it, as the speaking of an unconscionable alternative precisely to remind them all that there really is no other option, which Storm verifies by shooting it down. Maybe I'm giving Claremont too much credit there, but it's how I read the scene on my first pass; I sure don't have any excuse for him in terms of Havok apparently forgetting he used to live on Muir Isle.

    On the other hand, I do agree with the interpretation (despite the personally memorable Marvel Team-Up #4) that Havok and Polaris quite possibly and even probably remained part of the team for some time after X-Men's publishing hiatus, especially given the setup in Giant-Size X-Men #1, so Alex speaking of Xavier's familiarly shouldn't be strange.

    Hitting us over the head with that bus-side ad, though, is all kinds of wrong, because instead of the explanation it presumably wants to be of where Scott and the other original X-Men are it's just calling attention to the fact that these characters aren't reaching out to one another as they should — more than that, even, it reinforces how they're selectively ignorant by authorial/editorial whim.

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  8. @Blam: ...as the speaking of an unconscionable alternative precisely to remind them all that there really is no other option, which Storm verifies by shooting it down.

    I like that reading of it - definitely better than the alternatives.

    On the other hand, I do agree with the interpretation (despite the personally memorable Marvel Team-Up #4) that Havok and Polaris quite possibly and even probably remained part of the team for some time after X-Men's publishing hiatus

    And, of course, in terms of continuity, we do know they did indeed hang out as part of the team past issue #66, as they were in Byrne's Hidden Years series. But I agree its definitely safe to assume they had some adventures with the X-Men during the hiatus - I just wonder if insinuating as much was Claremont's intent, or if he was just misremembering the pre-hiatus issues. Given the seeming Muir Isle slip up, it could probably be either.

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