Wednesday, February 5, 2014
X-amining Uncanny X-Men #221
In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Mr. Sinister and the return of the Marauders.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Marc Silvestri & Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Mr. Sinister, leader of the Marauders, lambasts them for failing to kill Madelyne Pryor, who has recently awoken from her coma, then sends the team out to finish the job. Meanwhile, at the X-Mansion, Dazzler trains in the Danger Room, fighting a simulacrum of Rogue, much to the real Rogue's consternation. She urges Dazzler to bury the hatchet between them for the good of the team, but they're called to action by Psylocke. At the Grand Canyon, Storm and Naze begin their search for Forge, one which Naze says will be as much a spiritual journey as a physical one. In San Fransisco, the newly-arrived X-Men gather on a rooftop overlooking a hospital, as Wolverine explains that he received a call from Madelyne Pryor asking for the X-Men's help. As Psylocke scans the area, she detects the presence of the Marauders. Rogue races into the hospital, punching Sabretooth out of the building as Madelyne fights off Scalphunter.
Outside, Psylocke, Dazzler and Longshot are attacked by Vertigo and Harpoon, but Longshot grabs the women and dives off the roof, trusting his luck to land them somewhere safe. Inside the hospital, Scrambler attacks Wolverine and Havok, causing Havok to lose control of his power and damage the hospital. Wolverine is eager to go after Scrambler, but recognizes that as team leader, he must first tend to Havok. Outside, Rogue is flying Madelyne to safety when they're ensnared by a pile of girders controlled by Polaris. Polaris launches the girders into the bay, but Dazzler grabs hold as they pass by. Underwater, Dazzler is able to cut Madelyne free with her laser blast, but is forced to abandon Rogue when she runs out of air. However, she returns for Rogue and frees her as well. However, when the two teammates reach the surface, they find Polaris waiting, ready to kill them herself.
Firsts and Other Notables
Mr. Sinister makes his first full appearance (after a shadowy cameo in Sabretooth's mind in Uncanny X-Men #213), resulting in this issue being one of the harder-to-find-at-a-decent-price back issues when I was assembling my collection in the 90s (though oddly enough, the next issue was even harder to come by, a testament to the appeal of the Wolverine/Sabretooth rivalry in the 90s). Though Claremont introduces him here then only uses him in "Inferno" (including a few Classic X-Men backup stories that hint at his intended origin), Mr. Sinister is arguably one of the most significant of Claremont's original villain creations, simply because the character will dominate the X-Books in the 90s and beyond, rising, along with fellow 80s creation Apocalypse, into the upper echelon of X-Men villains.
Obviously, very little of his characterization, especially his role as a behind-the-scenes manipulator that so define the character these days, is on display in his brief few pages here (nor is any indication given of why he ordered the massacre of the Morlocks), but his design is largely consistent with what will come later (his forehead and chest diamonds are green, rather than red, his teeth perhaps more feral and the...things...hanging from his back less cape-like). Claremont has said that he intended for the character to be the manifestation of the dark side of a young mutant perpetually stuck around the age of ten (hence his straight-forwardly villainous look and name - he's the kind of a villain a child would create), Of course, Claremont didn't remain on the book long enough to firmly establish any of that, and future writers would reveal Sinister to be a Victorian era geneticist named Nathaniel Essex who made a pact with Apocalypse, leading to his signature look and longevity, that eventually turned sour, prompting Sinister to work behind the scenes to find a way to defeat Apocalypse once and for all.
The Malice-possessed Polaris also makes her debut as the leader of the Marauders, wearing the costume she'll wear for the duration of her time as a member of that team. Though her actions during this time are those of Malice, who is controlling Polaris' body, the character is still referred to as Polaris by captions/other characters/etc.
This issue also reintroduces Madelyne Pryor, last seen in issue #215 waking up from a coma after being attacked by the Marauders, to the series, and she'll remain a regular cast member and unofficial member of the team through "Inferno". It's also established that Mr. Sinister is responsible for erasing all record of Madelyne and her child's existence, as seen in contemporaneous issues of X-Factor.
Her appearance in this issue, however, introduces all kinds of timing questions: the issue opens with Sinister sending the Marauders to finish off Madelyne, now that she's woken up (presumably, it wasn't worth killing her when she was in a coma), and Madelyne proceeds to call the X-Men for help, allowing for the X-Men and Marauders to arrive at the same time in a relatively believable coincidence. Yet, we saw Madelyne actually wake up in issue #215, and while it's unclear exactly how much time has passed since then, it's pretty clear a significant amount of time has passed (long enough for the newer X-Men to gel as a team, for Havok to make a couple trips to New York, for the events of the two "versus" series to transpire, etc.), suggesting either Mr. Sinister was really slow to respond and Madelyne was perfectly willing to hang out at the hospital for months before calling for help, or that the scene of her waking up in issue #215 took place sometime in the future relative to that issue, closer to the start of this one, despite that issue explicitly stating that Madelyne waking up occurred at the same time as the other events of that issue.
Madelyne believes that Scott has their baby, while over in X-Factor Scott still believes both the baby and Madelyne are dead. The whereabouts of the (still unnamed) baby will factor into both books pre-"Inferno" plotlines.
A Work in Progress
Dazzler trains in the Danger Room against a holographic Rogue, bringing to the surface the unresolved tension between the two women. It's also noted that Dazzler is older than Rogue (continuing Rogue's depiction as being younger than in her earliest appearances).
It's established that the Adversary was able to enter our plane of existence through the actions of Dormammu, in a footnoted issue of Dr. Strange (perhaps Dr. Bitz can elucidate the events of that issue), though Claremont will quickly reveal that the Adversary gained his foothold through different means, ignoring this revelation.
It's established this issue that Naze intends for Storm, unbeknownst to her, to destroy Forge, not save him.
Lots of Claremontisms in this one. Dazzler is, of course, called a Lightengale at one point, and Claremont references the Spartans at Thermopylae, which he'll do again on a larger scale during "Fall of the Mutants".
Dazzler also refers to her photon blast as the "ultimate expression" of her power.
Later, after Scrambler attacks the X-Men, he says "Bang! All dead", a play on the usual "bang, you dead".
There's an ad in this issue for the Robotech RPG.
The back cover features an ad for the upcoming Spider-Man/Mary Jane wedding. But of course, we all know nowadays that never actually happened, so it's really just an ad for an issue where Spider-Man and Mary Jane merely cement their deeply-felt but not-legally-binding commitment to one another and all our eyes are devilishly playing tricks on us.
Tom DeFalco, Jim Shooter's right-hand man and eventual successor as Editor-in-Chief, gets the profile treatment this month.
Notable for it's introduction of Mr. Sinister, after several offhand mentions in the preceding months, and its re-introduction of Madelyne Pryor, after an absence of nearly twenty issues, this issue thus does as much to setup the subsequent Next Big Event ("Inferno"), as it does continue the march towards the current Next Big Event. Most of the "Fall of the Mutants" setup occurs in the brief sequence between Storm and Naze, relegated here to a subplot after dominating the narrative last issue. What takes center stage then, is the first sustained rematch between the Marauders and the X-Men following "Mutant Massacre".
It's a trifecta, then, of X-Men's big three events, recalling the first while laying the seeds for the second and third, but the actual arc of the story is much more personal, centered as it is on the relationship between Rogue and Dazzler. The two have snipped at each other since Dazzler joined the team, referencing their past animosity from Rogue's time as a villain and Dazzler's time as the star of her own title, but that snipping comes to a head in this issue, as Rogue basically tells Dazzler to suck it up for the good of the team. In the course of the issue she does, risking her life to rescue Rogue because, for all their past differences, they're teammates now. In an issue with a surprising number of connections to some of the title's biggest storylines, past and future, it's an effective character arc that helps ground the narrative.
Tomorrow, the Hellions return in New Mutants #56 and Friday, the X-Factor kids take the stage in X-Factor #20. Next week, it's the second round of Wolverine vs. Sabretooth in Uncanny X-Men #222.