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Friday, January 24, 2014

X-amining X-Men Annual #11

"Lost in the Funhouse"
1987

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men confront their greatest desires in order to defeat a powerful alien. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Late at night, Wolverine drunkenly stumbles home, having been out "celebrating" the anniversary of his aborted wedding to Mariko. Later that evening, the X-Men, along with their guests Captain Britain and Meggan, are attacked and defeated by a powerful alien named Horde. He teleports them to a massive citadel and tasks them with entering the citadel and acquiring for him a crystal which resides inside that will grant him the power to rule the universe. Left with no choice, the X-Men enter the citadel. They quickly realize the citadel defends itself by making the hearts desire of those who enter real. Rogue is quickly lost as she becomes a Southern belle, followed by Havok, who is transformed into a star and freed of being responsible for his massive power. Longshot, having no desires, is absorbed by the citadel, while a despondent Dazzler is overwhelmed by visions of what her life could have been: successful attorney, superstar performer, or homeless bag lady.


Captain Britain succeeds in bringing the X-Men to the crystal by smashing through the floor of the citadel, but then he and Meggan are lost in visions of domestic bliss after Psylocke chooses the path of the warrior and transforms into a being composed of metal. As Psylocke leaves to confront Horde and buy the X-Men time, Storm and Wolverine are confronted by their desires, a life of carefree adventure with Yukio and being reunited with Mariko, but are able to just barely resist their lure. Suddenly, Horde appears with the corpse of Psylocke, and Wolverine attacks him. Horde is able to overpower Wolverine and rip out his heart, but a drop of Wolverine's blood lands on the crystal. Wolverine is reborn, with the power of the crystal at his command. He kills Horde, then considers using his power to make humanity better, but realizes such an act would be fundamentally wrong, and destroys the crystal and the citadel with it. The X-Men awaken in the mansion and discuss their "dreams", memories of which quickly fade, with the X-Men never realizing they have helped humanity pass a cosmic test which assures its continued growth and evolution.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is most notable for the scene in which Wolverine is, nearly-instantaneously, resurrected entirely (including his adamantium skeleton) from a single drop of his blood by his healing factor. Often pointed to as a justification for the extreme power level the character will eventually exhibit, most of the people doing so seem to miss (or overlook) the fact that it only works here because Wolverine is super-charged by the crystal.


Alan Davis, after drawing a pair of New Mutants annuals, lends his talents to this issue. 

The villain of the story is Horde, a mutant alien who strong-arms the X-Men into entering the citadel and stealing the crystal for him. This is his first, and to date, only appearance.

Captain Britain and Meggan guest star in this issue, for seemingly no reason other than to give Alan Davis another chance to draw them (I mean, in-story, they're visiting Captain Britain's sister Psylocke, but there's nothing about the story or their contribution to it that required that visit to appear here, other than having Davis on hand to draw them).

A Work in Progress
Longshot apparently sleeps in his skivvies.


Psylocke expresses to Captain Britain her desire to prove herself a warrior, which later plays into her fantasy inside the citadel.


Rogue has seemingly become the X-Men's de facto grease monkey in the absence of Banshee and Nightcrawler, as she opens this issue once again in the hangar.


The fact that Longshot has multiple hearts is referenced.


Psylocke notes that of all the X-Men, Rogue and Longshot are the hardest for her to read telepathically.

The issue ends with the narration revealing that the statues outside the citadel represent the races which entered the citadel and failed its test, and thus were marked as unworthy of further evolution, whereas humanity will continue to grow and evolve. While the innate awesomeness of humanity is a pretty standard trope in comics (and sci-fi in general), the fact that the alien Skrull and Kree are represented amongst the statutes is notable, as their stunted evolution relative to humanity figures in many stories involving them.


Claremontisms
Dazzler calls herself Lightengale, and Psylocke is referred to as a "mind-witch". 

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops Havok
Havok pulls a Scott and complains about always having to struggle to control his power, with his hearts desire to become an actual star where he no longer needs to worry about his energy output. 


The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine, in celebration of the anniversary of his aborted wedding to Mariko, gets drunk, though he notes that because alcohol is essentially a poison, he has a difficult time getting drunk due to his healing factor. 


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
As Wolverine claims the crystal, he becomes one with the universe (looking especially Hugh Jackman-esque in the process), and wonders if Jean felt the same thing when she was Phoenix.  


Young Love
This being an annual and whatnot, the villain is of course especially smitten with Storm.


Longshot and Dazzler grow closer, as Dazzler looks to Longshot for comfort, then is especially horrified when Longshot is absorbed by the citadel. 

Teebore's Take
This is a fun little story, nothing groundbreaking or exceptional, but well-crafted genre work nonetheless. Horde, as the central villain, is hardly inspired, in either design or motivation, but he's just a means to get to the real bulk of the story: putting the X-Men face to face with their desires, and seeing how they react (Captain Britain and Meggan are also largely superfluous to the story, but certainly don't harm anything by their presence). It's a pretty standard narrative device, especially in comics, but its effectiveness here is elevated by the gorgeous Alan Davis art, as well as the fact that this crop of X-Men are still mostly new and relatively unknown characters, making their interactions with the crystal more intriguing (Longshot's selflessness and Dazzler's reaction to the citadel absorbing him are particularly engaging). Drawn by someone else at a different time in the book's history, this story would probably struggle to get above the level of "disposable fluff" at which so many annuals fall. But while it's not quite on the level of the preceding two Art Adams-drawn annuals, it definitely continues the title's recent hot streak relative to the first six mostly forgettable annuals. 

Next Issue
It's back to business as usual, as Uncanny X-Men #220 sends Storm searching for Forge, New Mutants #55 welcomes aboard Louise Simonson, and X-Factor #19 unleashes the Horsemen of Apocalypse.

28 comments:

  1. I read this story for the very first time last year in the Captain Britain Omnibus, and I wasn't really impressed. But of course I was reading it as part of a Captain Britain collection, and as you note, his appearance here is entirely superfluous. I agree that he and Meggan were probably thrown in simply so Davis could draw them.

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  2. The thing about Betsy having difficulty reading Rogue and Longshot's minds makes sense.

    Rogue's fractured psyche and part-alien physiology (via permanently absorbing Ms. Marvel's half-Kree abilities) and Longshot's non-human brain would be much harder to peek into than a normal human mind.

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  3. @FuryofFirestorm: The thing about Betsy having difficulty reading Rogue and Longshot's minds makes sense.

    Oh, totally (even Xavier said he had a hard time reading Rogue for the reason you said). I was just noting that it was noted. :)

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  5. I love this annual too. Again, not ground-breaking or anything like that, but between the strong character work and the lovely artwork, it's a good read. I also agree that while it's not quite at the level of the Art Adams annuals, it is better than most of the other annuals.

    "This issue is most notable for the scene in which Wolverine is, nearly-instantaneously, resurrected entirely (including his adamantium skeleton) from a single drop of his blood by his healing factor."

    My fanwank is that Wolverine used his new powers to give himself the adamantium claws and skeleton. Subconsciously, of course ;)

    "Psylocke expresses to Captain Britain her desire to prove herself a warrior, which later plays into her fantasy inside the citadel."

    It also plays into her post Siege Perilous 2.0 status quo...

    Interesting how frumpy Betsy is dressed in her scene with Brian in the kitchen. By the time Silvestri comes aboard, her choice of bedwear switches to sexy underwear, see-through nightgowns, high heels, and striking the occasional modeling-on-the-beach pose (http://uncannyxmen.net/images/spotlight/psylocke14.jpg). Hey, it's Silvestri after all ;)

    "Rogue has seemingly become the X-Men's de facto grease monkey in the absence of Banshee and Nightcrawler"

    Hey, gotta put those memories of Carol Danvers to good use, right? Granted, she was a pilot, not sure how much mechanical work Carol did. Maybe Rogue just spent time assisting Nightcraweler off panel?

    "This being an annual and whatnot, the villain is of course especially smitten with Storm."

    Of course.

    "I thought Wolvie couldn't get drunk."

    At this point, I think he can get drunk, it just takes a lot of booze to get there, and even then, he won't stay drunk as long as a normal person would due to his healing factor...

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  6. @wwk5d: My fanwank is that Wolverine used his new powers to give himself the adamantium claws and skeleton. Subconsciously, of course ;)

    Oh yeah, I have no problem with that happening in this instance; I pointed it out more to further undermine the attempts to use this as a justification for Wolverine's amped up healing factor, because no matter how powerful it is, it couldn't rebuild the adamantium unless magic is involved (like it is here).

    It also plays into her post Siege Perilous 2.0 status quo...

    Yeah, Psylocke's whole arc from her joining up to her post-Perilous transformation is pretty much about her struggling to prove herself as a warrior. This issue is another example of that.

    Hey, gotta put those memories of Carol Danvers to good use, right?

    I never considered that, but it makes sense. I just figured Claremont likes to have someone on the team he can show working on the Blackbird when the call to action comes in, so why not Rogue? The Danvers part makes sense though.

    At this point, I think he can get drunk, it just takes a lot of booze to get there, and even then, he won't stay drunk as long as a normal person would due to his healing factor...

    That's my take as well, and he pretty much says as much in this issue, that he's had to drink A LOT to get to the point he's at.

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  7. "I never considered that, but it makes sense. I just figured Claremont likes to have someone on the team he can show working on the Blackbird when the call to action comes in, so why not Rogue? The Danvers part makes sense though."

    It does get brought up very briefly again, in one panel, in the issue right before Fall of the Mutants. Don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read that far ahead, but hope you pick up on it, Teebore ;)

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  8. One other thing about this issue ... that song Wolverine is singing in the opening pages is a showtune. The song comes from Irish playwright Brendan Behan's 1958 script THE HOSTAGE.

    See, moments like this are why it takes a musical theater veteran to play Logan in live action.

    "My fanwank is that Wolverine used his new powers to give himself the adamantium claws and skeleton."

    That's not fanwank, it's canonwank! Peter Sanderson made it so in "The Wolverine Saga" published circa 1989.


    "Next Issue
    It's back to business as usual"

    Excellent. It has been too long since I have known mutants by their deeds. :)

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  9. Well, glad that confirms my theory lol

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  10. What a silly theory about the musical theatre, Jason! Because in that case, due to all Claremontese in the source material, shouldn't we expect to also see at least in the more talkative roles some established Shakespearean theatre talents... oh.

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  11. // Wolverine ... considers using his power to make humanity better, but realizes such an act would be fundamentally wrong //

    So, Magneto's arc in The X-Men vs. The Avengers in two panels.

    In other Logan news:

    The young girl he adopted (or had Mariko adopt) in Uncanny #181 makes what I think is her first appearance since Kitty Pryde and Wolverine as a photo on his little Shinto altar.

    Wolverine finally comes face-to-face with the revived Jean Grey in Meatloaf's back-cover pitch to benefit the Special Olympics. Probably not considered in continuity…

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  12. @Blam: Wolverine finally comes face-to-face with the revived Jean Grey in Meatloaf's back-cover pitch to benefit the Special Olympics. Probably not considered in continuity…

    That could be said about the Marvel 25th anniversary cover border thingy and it was practically on the front cover of each and every title in Nov '86.

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  13. Might the scene with Psylocke suggest that whatever controlled her to compel the team through the Siege Perilous after their return from the Savage Land, had its hooks in her this far back?

    And given she likewise saw herself as a Reaver in that story, might the influence have been implanted by Spiral during New Mutants Annual #2?

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  14. "Wolverine finally comes face-to-face with the revived Jean Grey in Meatloaf's back-cover pitch to benefit the Special Olympics. Probably not considered in continuity…"

    It *is* in continuity. Except he was too far away to catch her scent, and just thought it was Maddie dressed in spandex for some reason.

    "That could be said about the Marvel 25th anniversary cover border thingy"

    Ditto.

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  15. Meant, not too far away, just too many other scents from him to juggle and pinpoint ;)

    Speaking...if Maddie is Jean's clone, wouldn't they have the same scent as far as Wolverine is concerned?

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  16. @Nathan Alder: Might the scene with Psylocke suggest that whatever controlled her to compel the team through the Siege Perilous after their return from the Savage Land, had its hooks in her this far back?

    And given she likewise saw herself as a Reaver in that story, might the influence have been implanted by Spiral during New Mutants Annual #2?


    Bionic eyes at least were. Isn't she technically a cyborg then...

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  17. "Might the scene with Psylocke suggest that whatever controlled her to compel the team through the Siege Perilous after their return from the Savage Land, had its hooks in her this far back?"

    I don't think anything was controlling her...that was her own (some would say bad) decision to "save" the remaining X-men from the Reavers, no?

    "And given she likewise saw herself as a Reaver in that story, might the influence have been implanted by Spiral during New Mutants Annual #2?"

    She didn't see herself as a Reaver per se; before she joined the X-men, back when she was was just appearing Marvel UK titles, she had precognitive abilities which CC seemed to ignore. However, for that story, she suddenly had those powers again and "saw" herself and the X-men being slaughtered by the Reavers. Hence her decision to coerce the X-men into fleeing.

    If Spiral had implanted influence in her, it probably would have been to surrender/submit to Reavers instead of running away from them...

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  18. "... Meant, not too far away, just too many other scents from him to juggle and pinpoint ;)"

    Well, he was standing near Meatloaf...

    I like this Annual, mostly due to Alan Davis's art. Also, Psylocke's actually a semi-interesting character. I came of age with '90s Psylocke, whose personality was blandly edgy at best (and the less said about Revanche the better)(fun fact: Revanche showed up in the X-Men/ Avengers crossover "Blood Ties" but Wolverine didn't) (stupid Revanche). I like conflicted '80s Psylocke much more.

    - Mike Loughlin


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  19. @Jason: See, moments like this are why it takes a musical theater veteran to play Logan in live action.

    Ha! I had no idea the song he was singing was a showtune. That's great!

    @Blam: The young girl he adopted (or had Mariko adopt) in Uncanny #181 makes what I think is her first appearance since Kitty Pryde and Wolverine as a photo on his little Shinto altar.

    That's...pretty awesome. I never noticed that before. Considering how rarely Amiko appears under Claremont's pen, that's pretty impressive.

    @wwk5d: Speaking...if Maddie is Jean's clone, wouldn't they have the same scent as far as Wolverine is concerned?

    @Mike: Also, Psylocke's actually a semi-interesting character. I came of age with '90s Psylocke, whose personality was blandly edgy at best

    Ditto, and going back and reading these pre-Asian Psylocke issues, I gained a greater appreciation for the character as a result. The seemingly-proper British woman yearning to be a hardened warrior is much more interesting than the woman is just a hardened warrior.

    fun fact: Revanche showed up in the X-Men/ Avengers crossover "Blood Ties" but Wolverine didn't

    Hey, it's not Revanche's fault she was hanging around during pretty much the only time Wolverine was written out of the X-books for a consistent period of time. :)

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  20. Asian Psylocke was interesting when CC initially wrote her...it's once he leaves that the character begins to suffer.

    The fun fact isn't that Revanche appears in "Blood Ties" but Wolverine doesn't...it's that Revanche appears but Psylocke doesn't lol

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  21. It always seemed a disservice to Psylocke's character when she was turned into an Asian ninja. Fine if they wanted one in the book...then create one. This issue did seem the start of her concern with being a hard-edged warrior, leading to her armor costume (which I always liked), and then the ninja transformation. Another early key issue for me in my collection.

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  22. "before she joined the X-men, back when she was was just appearing Marvel UK titles, she had precognitive abilities which CC seemed to ignore"

    I would dispute that. I dont' remember her ever demonstrating precognition in the Marvel UK stories. I remember them SAYING she had them, like maybe once, but never her actually using them.

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  23. You can dispute it, but that doesn't mean you are correct ;)

    She used them occasionally, especially during the Jaspers Warp storyline. From uncannyxmen.net:

    "Later, Great Britain was hit by a reality warp caused by Sir James Jaspers. In the altered reality, super-beings were incarcerated in concentration camps, forcing Brian and his friends to go undercover. Betsy used her precognition ability to tell the others when it would be safe to leave their hide-out to search for food or medicine, but not before long they were discovered."

    And even if she didn't use them as frequently as she did her telepathy, the fact remains they did exist and she did have them, even if various writers seemed to forget she did ;)

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  24. To me, her precog powers are like Wolfsbane's healing factor.

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  25. @wwk5d: The fun fact isn't that Revanche appears in "Blood Ties" but Wolverine doesn't...it's that Revanche appears but Psylocke doesn't lol

    Ha! Yes indeed.

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  26. This is one of my favorite issues. Psylocke was the POV character it seems. I'll always love her as the British woman not quite up to snuff for an X-man and wanting to prove she can hang with the club. I always think that if she had never become asian. She would have become what Emma became, The premier team Telepathic badass, without all the ninja stabby stuff. She didn't need it. She would have grown naturally. I don't think she would have ever become some punch you in the face type. She was pretty tough as the armoured psychic warrior.

    BTW she did have Precognition and had a fair amount of control over those powers also. She helped Brian beat Slaymaster using them.

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  27. This is my favorite of the Annuals I've read. It's stand-alone, and an excellent in-depth look at the characters at the time, from then-newbies like Dazzler and Longshot to familiar faces like Rogue.

    I feel that the most interesting "heart's desires" belong to Storm, Wolverine, and Psylocke.

    In Storm's case, her "desire" is a radical departure from how we usually know her. The Storm of the 1970s, (and the 90s, and the 2000s) is very much rooted in her origins as the African goddess -- she's seen as a queen, a savior, a kind of Mother Earth/fairy godmother hybrid. Seeing her wish here -- no cares, no responsibilities, no powers, just a fun, never-ending night on the town with best friend/girlfriend Yukio -- shows how very different the reality is from the archetype. I feel that the remainder of Storm's portrayals during Claremont's run, from here through into the Outback era, fight to create a balance between Ororo-as-goddess and Storm-as-fighter. I also feel that this is the best psychological profile of "Storm-as-fighter" that we get. There's only the slightest amount of disconnect between her fantasy and reality, where at this oint in the book, she's more or less constantly stating, or at least thinking, how much she wants her powers back.

    Wolverine is interesting in that this is, while not the first, at least one of the few depictions of his "fantasy world" where Jean Grey is not a factor. To me, that says that he loves Mariko more than he wants Jean -- indeed, I feel like his feelings for Jean are bound up more in his resentment of Cyclops than anything else. The fact that Jean finds him hot, but does not love him in return, only confuses the issue. Between the departure of Cyclops in #138 and the X-Men's reunion in Inferno, Logan only mentions Jean a handful of times, and then only when she's brought up by another character or when he comes across her trail. Otherwise, he's pretty strictly a Mariko man. Even during the "From the Ashes" event that features Mastermind's illusion of a reborn Dark Phoenix, Logan is so tightly bound up in feelings for Mariko (having been recently devastated when she left him at the altar) that Madelyne and her resemblance to "Jeanie" bareley even registers in his mind, compared to Lilandra who goes aboslutely apewire. For all that everyone loves a good love triangle, this issue cements it in my mind that Mariko, not Jean, is Logan's "true" love.

    Psylocke -- is my favorite X-Man during this period of the team's run. Usually, my all-time favorite X-Man is Storm -- she's my all-time favorite fictional character, period -- but in the post-Mutant Massacre period, up through the end of Fall of the Mutants, Betsy is just the more interesting character. Where Storm's crises of faith fit her character, Betsy's doubts and concerns portrayed in this Annual are what SHAPE her character. She wants to be a hero, a warrior, a champion, and she has the power to do it, but she lacks focus, training, and physical prowess to match her psychic power. Unlike Jean, who even at her weakest point was still a plenty tough telekinetic, Psylocke is basically Professor X in the field with poofy sleeves. Although she's VERY creative with her telepathy, anything resistant to it can trounce her. I feel it's this dilemma which leads to her acquiring Australian armor (one of the most sensible and useful wardrobe choices any X-Man ever made), and informs her post-Siege Perilous "ninja" period. What Claremont got, that many MANY other writers did not get, is that when she went ninja, Psylocke was given the heart's desire exhibited here. Despite the identity crisis and the VERY convoluted explanation given by Nicieza, in the end, Psylocke got exactly what she wanted, and Claremont wrote that conflict brilliantly, as he writes most inner conflicts.

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