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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #221

"Death by Drowning!"
September 1987

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

Plot
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.


Claremontisms
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".


For Sale
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.


Bullpen Bulletins
Tom DeFalco, Jim Shooter's right-hand man and eventual successor as Editor-in-Chief, gets the profile treatment this month. 

Teebore's Take
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.  

Next Issue
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.

37 comments:

  1. "Claremont has said that he intended for the character to be the manifestation of the dark side of a young mutant..."

    I know he re-visited this in X-Men Forever, but it would have been interesting to see how this would have all played out (along with Gambit) had CC stayed on the title. At the very least, it would have been nice to learn why he wanted the Morlocks wiped out, other than them being "wild cards". And certainly better than the explanation we got in the 90s...

    "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."

    Well, she was wearing it in # 219, so might as well keep using it, no? ;)

    Sounds like CC was just juggling so many plotlines, the Maddy one was just dropped...until he needed it now, to start setting things up for FOTM.

    "as Rogue basically tells Dazzler to suck it up for the good of the team."

    Storm and Wolvering may not see her as one the "elder statesmen" of the team, but between this and lecturing Havoc in the FF mini-series, she sure has matured quite a bit.

    And while some character growth here for Dazzler is nice, she does end up regressing once the team ends up down under...

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  2. @wwk5d: At the very least, it would have been nice to learn why he wanted the Morlocks wiped out, other than them being "wild cards". And certainly better than the explanation we got in the 90s...

    Pretty much ANYTHING would have been better than the explanation we got in the 90s...

    Well, she was wearing it in # 219, so might as well keep using it, no? ;)

    Eh, I apparently (already) forgot she had the costume on in the last panel of #219. Still, I think this counts as her debut as leader, at least...

    And while some character growth here for Dazzler is nice, she does end up regressing once the team ends up down under...

    I see it less as regression and more a clarification: like, here, Dazzler accepts Rogue as a teammate and isn't going to actively try to antagonize her, but if Rogue is going to start wearing her clothes and macking on her boyfriend, she's going to be especially pissed off because it's Rogue doing those things.

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  3. Silvestri... my connection to him always was less than complete somehow.

    When Jason Powell recapped the issue someone made a point how around this time it was less about Havok joining the X-Men and more about Alex/Lorna been broken up and them ending in the opposing teams in the X-Men/Marauders hostility. I found it funny, because I have always felt that X-Men and X-Factor became Team Maddie and Team Scott in respective to their marriage. And here we are, both things are practically happening in the same issue.

    And the third couple in the issue, Peter & Mary Jane... my undying love for the awesome character that is Jaime Rodriguez is nothing but strengthening: when he entered the X-world by finding Kulan Gath's necklace, didn't he say something in the vein of "Face it, Jaime, you just hit the jackpot"? He was the addresser, he was the addressee, and most of all, when shit went down he knew better than to go make stupid deals with Evil.

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  4. "I see it less as regression and more a clarification: like, here, Dazzler accepts Rogue as a teammate and isn't going to actively try to antagonize her, but if Rogue is going to start wearing her clothes and macking on her boyfriend, she's going to be especially pissed off because it's Rogue doing those things."

    Oh, Dazzler's reaction in the circumstance was very understandable. It was just in general, between the step she takes here and what she learns about herself in the recent annual...she just doesn't seem to grow much as a character. Granted, not everyone can and should be likeable, but i always felt like CC could have done more with her. Granted, it has been a while since I've read much of the post FOTM issues, so we'll see.

    "I have always felt that X-Men and X-Factor became Team Maddie and Team Scott in respective to their marriage"

    The ramifications of that will be felt in Inferno...

    "He was the addresser, he was the addressee, and most of all, when shit went down he knew better than to go make stupid deals with Evil."

    Sing it, sister. Triple snap in Z formation!

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  5. Oh f... UXM 191: Spider-Man dies gruesomely, while Jaime Rodriguez is saved. Claremont is punishing him for his stupid Mephisto-deal twenty years early and being very clear about it! Same Claremont who turns Betsy into a half naked ninja in the first issue of the 90s... The man's a goddamn pre-cog.

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  6. @Teemu: And here we are, both things are practically happening in the same issue.

    I was really surprised, re-reading this issue, how I never noticed before just how much "Inferno" groundwork this issue laid, with Sinister, Maddie, X-Men and X-Factor taking sides in the Scott/Maddie marriage.

    @wwk5d: Granted, not everyone can and should be likeable, but i always felt like CC could have done more with her

    Oh, definitely. Out of all the FoM/Outback cast, Dazzler arguably suffers the most from Claremont's forced return to a traditional setup and eventual departure. Pretty much everyone else gets from that era gets put back on the team or (in the case of Havok) handed off to another writer, but Dazzler just kind of wanders off, and you definitely feel like maybe Claremont could have done more with her.

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  7. Yeah, this is definitely a big one. Sinister gets a pretty impressive first appearance, and Sabretooth gets the honor of jobbing to him. I love Silvestri's design for him. It's seems like a pretty original design for a comic villain.

    Mal-aris makes a pretty impressive showing here. I think this is the best action in the series since Mutant Massacre.

    You're right about "Inferno" basically hogging the spotlight from "Fall of the Mutants" here, too. Storm and Naze are kind of spinning their wheels. Luckily, the Uncanny issues of Fall of the Mutants end up being a top 10 X-Men story for me.

    I've been buying these issues the last few weeks to keep up and ran into the same thing you did. This one cost me $10 but 222 is $13. I need to have a yard sale and just draw Wolverine fighting Sabretooth on everything I'm trying to sell.

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  8. @ wwk5d: The ramifications of that will be felt in Inferno...

    @ Teebore: I was really surprised, re-reading this issue, how I never noticed before just how much "Inferno" groundwork this issue laid, with Sinister, Maddie, X-Men and X-Factor taking sides in the Scott/Maddie marriage.

    Of course, at that point it has taken a hilarious turn to be in a way more about Team Maddie and Team Jean. At least if we are to believe Alex. "Poor Scotty, run out of redheads to play with?"

    Though that may have been little brother envy talking out of his own poor choice of girlfriend hair color. Not much competition there... I believe there are no active circles who are shipping Alex/She-Hulk?

    @Jeff: I need to have a yard sale and just draw Wolverine fighting Sabretooth on everything I'm trying to sell.

    Oh my... were they to publish Classic X-Men type of setup today they would probably redraw all the covers to be more Wolverine. In the corner box, Wolverine. For issues like 218 and 231 they would have additional new pages drawn and be sure to mention in the cover who exactly is a special guest star.

    Wolverine would most likely be trying to call them and warn them in each of those issues but would find out he's too late and trash the phone booth upon finding out.

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  9. Oh right, the Sinister first appearance... knowing now that the over-the-top looks of Sinister with the ribbons and all was an intentional due to his nature as a figment of imagination of a teen boy aiming for cool factor, there's just no limit to the amusement I draw from New Mutants #87 where a new arch-villain named Stryfe makes his first appearance.

    Please note how a feral mutant gets choked in the introductional scene for the purpose of establishing his badassery.

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  10. "Eh, I apparently (already) forgot she had the costume on in the last panel of #219. Still, I think this counts as her debut as leader, at least..."

    Acccctually ... isn't the last exchange in 219 between her and the other Marauders something like ...

    (Marauder)"What do you plan to do now?"
    (Polaris) "To lead you, of course."

    :)

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  11. P.S. I loooove this issue, and the next. Mr. Sinister probably makes my Top Ten All-Time Favorite X-Characters list. Silvestri's design is great, and I love the artist's "acting" for the character. (Though as you say, he's not quite the Evil Mastermind here that he will be by the time Inferno comes along.)

    I also love the Marauders and this little two-parter is my favorite of all their clashes. (The first one in "Massacre" is so one-sided in the Marauders' favor, and the last one in "Inferno" is kind of the opposite.) This one is nicely balanced, with both teams getting their licks in.

    Plus, Maddie's becoming a regular character here is great. I especially like how next issue has material taking place at the Golden Gate Bridge, since it makes a little more explicit the resonances between the whole Scott/Madelyne thing and the film "Vertigo." (Icing on the cake that one of the Marauders is named "Vertigo.")

    Maddie, the Marauders, and the Mister. It's a trifecta of "M"-related awesomeness.

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  12. @Jason: Acccctually ... isn't the last exchange in 219 between her and the other Marauders something like ...

    (Marauder)"What do you plan to do now?"
    (Polaris) "To lead you, of course."


    Well, yes, but she's not actually leading them at that point. Just saying she's going to.

    So this issue is her first appearance as the Marauders leader after telling them she was taking the position in #219. :)

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  13. I know that I've praised recent issues of Uncanny, but I was decidedly underwhelmed by #221.

    The Marauders are still pretty much ciphers — a bunch of new villains with terrible designs whom I've been told (and, yes, to an extent shown) are chillingly lethal yet who remain less than even two-dimensional. Sabretooth is an exception, just given my prior experience with him; that experience, however, is limited and seems at odds with his characterization here.

    Claremont isn't the first writer to introduce a sort of villainous opposite-number organization out to eliminate our heroes suddenly, granting them by authorial fiat a gravity that's really only earned over time (unless they're flat-out amazingly impressive creations, and for my money the Marauders are not). I expect better from him, though, on top of which the larger X-Men sphere, particularly given its recent expansion, doesn't feel like it supports the idea. The X-Men already have a couple of dark counterparts, as discussed here before, in Magneto's Brotherhood / Mystique's Freedom Force and the Inner Circle of The Hellfire Club. Perhaps the Marauders aren't meant to be another reflection — I'm not even sure if all of them are mutants, although some are, which makes their mission stranger — but regardless of that the question is also begged of why all the mutants aren't banding together right now to hunt down these mercenaries preemptively, strange bedfellow be damned; that is after all one reason why Magneto joined the Lords Cardinal. Sinister unleashing his hounds on mutantdom while Apocalypse is assembling the Four Horsemen and the Right is doing whatever the Right is doing over in X-Factor also strikes me a bit much to all be happening at once — less complicated when you consider the series separately, granted; more frustrating when you realize that they really are operating in separate worlds with minimal crossover and shouldn't be, however.

    When I first encountered Mister Sinister in Inferno, sampling the X-titles for the first time in a few years, I assumed that he was some evil counterpart of Colossus'. Even with Colossus out of the story for now, giving Sinister his head and the same kind of banded metal that makes up Colossus' body on his suit is a really bad idea. I suspect that had I read his first appearance here in #221 at the time I would still be riffing fan theories on if not outright assuming some relation.

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  14. It also doesn't help that Silvestri's work isn't doing much for me. Certain panels have me admiring a face or a figure, and it's possible I'd like it more if Dan Green weren't inking since the art looks better if I squint to just get the gist of it, but his composition overall just doesn't have the strength of Cockrum, Byrne, or Smith (all strong in different ways, to be sure). One reason why the Image founders' styles as a group bothered me is that setting aside the underpinning, where Lee and Silvestri and even Larsen had it all over Liefeld and MacFarlane and I guess Valentino (whose Normalman rocked but whose straight Marvel and Image art disappointed), the inking whether by others or by the pencilers themselves largely shared this slight, scratchy style that made everything feel tentative. The effect was intentional, and supposedly kewl, but it came across as hurriedness or lack of confidence. Green's style kind-of prefigures this.

    Plus: "Lightengale" was done the second time it was uttered; now it's dreadful.

    I'm sad to disagree so much with you, Teebore, and with Jason given his own articulate examinations of Claremont's run over at Remarkable, but I gotta call it like I see it. No doubt our perspectives differ to a great extent because I'm coming to this stuff new at 40+ years old, whereas not only did you read it as it unfolded or as recent established history but you were a kid when you did — my own equivalent being the Cockrum and Byrne eras. I still think my tastes were set enough by the time I was a senior in high school for me not to have adored Silvestri and these '90s-harbinger characters had I still been picking up Uncanny; we'll never know. There's clearly a huge imbalance, no matter one's age, in reading older material that's almost completely new to you rather than either reading it knowing (and really enjoying) the later material to which it builds and/or rereading it having loved it as a first exposure to vast superhero-comics sagas. I didn't just not read this stuff when it came out; I never got back into the X-Men titles again to the extent that this feels like the dawning of anything I'm familiar with beyond spot research, so I'm assessing it largely on its own merits to my modern eyes.

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  15. I always hated the idea of Sinister being the avatar of an old mutant trapped in a child's body. It's too complicated and just kind of silly. Claremont said Sinister's name and appearance were supposed to be a reflection of a child's ideal villain, but he wasn't really a child, so why would he go with something "kewl" if he was, in fact, older than everyone else? I'm sure Claremont toyed with the idea for a while, but I just kind buy that it was the reason for Sinister's design. Maybe Claremont was trying to save face after coming up with a slightly goofy villain.

    That said, I think Sinister's great. He doesn't need a complicated origin. He's bad, likes to work behind the scenes, and is really powerful if he actually has to get his hands dirty. That's good enough for me. He was such a blank slate here, in a good way... No silly obsession with Summers DNA, no being Apocalypse's garbage boy, and no reincarnation as a woman or flamboyant Victorian weirdo who likes milk.

    Speaking of supposed dropped Claremont plots, what was the one about Sabretooth? Didn't he say that he planned to reveal that this Sabretooth appearance was actually that of a clone? Basically he was taking the Doombot approach and using it to retcon the "weaker" Sabretooth appearances. I think he tried to do this in X-Men Forever. Anyone know?

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  16. @ Blam: The Marauders are still pretty much ciphers — a bunch of new villains with terrible designs whom I've been told (and, yes, to an extent shown) are chillingly lethal yet who remain less than even two-dimensional. Sabretooth is an exception, just given my prior experience with him; that experience, however, is limited and seems at odds with his characterization here.

    Claremont isn't the first writer to introduce a sort of villainous opposite-number organization out to eliminate our heroes suddenly, granting them by authorial fiat a gravity that's really only earned over time (unless they're flat-out amazingly impressive creations, and for my money the Marauders are not).


    Someone somewhere, could it have yet again in one of those J. Powell assessments or comments therewith, made a point about Marauders that they really complement their not-so-impressive powers by using them in proper team-play fashion: Vertigo messes the enemies' balance, then Arclight punches ground to take them off their feet and then the rest are free to finish them with energy harpoons and whatnot.

    I wouldn't argue if someone claimed that Mr. Sinister in his Summers obsession trains these manoeuvres to them and assigns them with silly numbers but then the Marauders won't use the numbers in action because they feel they are silly.

    ... which makes them actually quite a good sort of team to bin against the current roster of neophyte X-Men with their old baggages who at this point still need to make a huge drama of such simple superheroics as cutting a teammate off from metal debris underwater with really really concentrated light beams.

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  17. @Blam :...more frustrating when you realize that they really are operating in separate worlds with minimal crossover and shouldn't be, however.

    A textbook example of "be careful what you wish for" if I ever saw one. :)

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  18. @Blam: The Marauders are still pretty much ciphers — a bunch of new villains with terrible designs whom I've been told (and, yes, to an extent shown) are chillingly lethal yet who remain less than even two-dimensional.

    Rats, should have worked this to the earlier post, but: the one-dimensionalness may even be deliberate by Claremont and even if it isn't it works finely. They are what they are: mercenaries from the bloodthirstier end of spectrum. There's not much inner conflict going on in their heads so they can just thrive to be the best there is at what they do. Judging by the results - Mr. Sinister may disagree - they are doing pretty good.

    To elaborare what I said in earlier post, it is a motivation and a half for the current X-Men to get their act together hastily if they are going to win this particular superpowered bunch of enemies.

    It's disturbing really how in the Claremontian world you can add a sense of otherness to villains just by withholding them having next to any thought-bubbles. Compare to Sebastian Shaw or Mystique; no one can even move without Shaw thinking the repercussions of it to the inner rankings of Lords Cardinal and Mystique is most of the time downright writing a novel inside her head because she's envious to Pyro's success possibly.

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  19. "Speaking of supposed dropped Claremont plots, what was the one about Sabretooth? Didn't he say that he planned to reveal that this Sabretooth appearance was actually that of a clone? Basically he was taking the Doombot approach and using it to retcon the "weaker" Sabretooth appearances. I think he tried to do this in X-Men Forever. Anyone know?"

    Well, one version I've read was that Sabretooth and all the Marauders are pretty much to be clones at this point (the Vertigo clone here is supposed to the clone of the original Vertigo who is a part of the Savage Land Mutates). The original Sabretooth is the one who appeared in Iron Fist and would antagonize and humiliate Wolverine on his birthdays (as seen in the Classic X-men back-up story). The 'real' Sabretooth would only be involved in the outer fringes of what was happening in the X-universe, while the Marauder Sabretooth would be the one fighting the X-men directly. Or something like that. Who knows how it would have played out since that was one of many ideas that was dropped, especially once CC is gone.

    I like the Marauders. The costumes aren't that great, but they're not the worst we've seen. As for them being ciphers...it does kind of fit in with the disposable clone aspect of their original character, and makes them more mysterious and dangerous. But I do like how CC gives some of them enough personality traits to at least make them interesting adversaries.

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  20. @wwk5d: I like the Marauders. The costumes aren't that great, but they're not the worst we've seen.

    Wait... were those the last gift of the celebrated costume design talent that is JRjr from his first run on UXM? Issues #211 (Massacre) and #210 were the last ones drawn by him at that time, but Wikipedia tries to give credit of creation of Scalphunter to CC and Silvestri.

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  21. As a certified Mr. Sinister maniac, this was one of my most eagerly sought back issues when I was younger. I was a little disappointed when I finally read and learned he played so tiny of a role in the proceedings.

    As a kid I thought the name Mr. Sinister was cool, so mission accomplished, as far as giving him a name a kid might have come up with. Thing is, I still think it's cool now, and not in any sort of ironic way. It's just an awesome name for a bad guy. Which means as a thirty-five year old adult, I think I should feel a little insulted!

    Also, it irks me when people drop "Mr." from his name all the time. I mean I get it when we call him that for brevity's sake, but when, for example, third person narration refers to him as "Sinister", I don't like it. He didn't spend all those years at gentlemen's school to have the honorific dropped from his name!

    The reason I liked the guy so much was his involvement in everything. There was a period in the nineties when, if an X-writer had something they needed to explain, they could refer to the ol' playbook and provide a succinct, simple answer: "Mr. Sinister." Just give him a quickie vague speech monologue on the subject of whatever just happened and move on. I ate it up and I loved it.

    I like the origin he was eventually given too, though Claremont's original plan is probably the aborted storyline I would've most liked to see him play out. It looked like he was going that direction again in X-Men Forever before it was cancelled.

    "There's an ad in this issue for the Robotech RPG."

    Another trip down memory lane! This was one of the many RPGs I played when I was younger, though I didn't get into it until years after it came out. I discovered Robotech on Cartoon Network when I was in college and that's when I picked up the game.

    Blam -- "When I first encountered Mister Sinister in Inferno, sampling the X-titles for the first time in a few years, I assumed that he was some evil counterpart of Colossus'..."

    You aren't the only one. In Earth X, Alex Ross and/or Jim Kreuger did this dopey scene where Colossus and Nightcrawler discover that they eventually became Mr. Sinister and Belasco, respectively, in the future and then traveled back in time to menace the X-Men. I guess it was meant as a commentary on the convoluted nature of the X-books in the nineties, but boy did it take me out of the story!

    Dan -- "Speaking of supposed dropped Claremont plots, what was the one about Sabretooth?"

    I've always heard the same thing as wwk5d -- as far as Claremont was concerned, every Sabretooth ever seen on a Marvel page was a clone created by Mr. Sinister with the two noted exceptions. Not unlike John Byrne's idea that any Dr. Doom appearance he didn't like was a robot, or Jim Starlin's own Thanos clone army he created in Infinity Abyss to explain some of Thanos's lesser appearances in the nineties.

    Teemu -- "...were those the last gift of the celebrated costume design talent that is JRjr from his first run on UXM?"

    The Marauders were definitely visually designed by Romita Jr. Marvel's recent "Mutant Massacre" collections feature his model sheets for them.

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  22. "Also, it irks me when people drop "Mr." from his name all the time. I mean I get it when we call him that for brevity's sake, but when, for example, third person narration refers to him as "Sinister", I don't like it. He didn't spend all those years at gentlemen's school to have the honorific dropped from his name!"

    :) This is brilliant.

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  23. I agree that "Mister Sinister" is a great name. I think when I first heard that Claremont intended it to be something a kid came up with, hence its corniness, I was suggestible enough that I nodded my head and said, "Yeah, I guess the name is kind of corny."

    Now I'm on board with my fellow 35-year-old Matt, and thing it's cool. It's got a nice poetic ring, and it's very Silver Age, like "Doctor Doom."

    Speaking of that guy ...

    "as far as Claremont was concerned, every Sabretooth ever seen on a Marvel page was a clone created by Mr. Sinister with the two noted exceptions. Not unlike John Byrne's idea that any Dr. Doom appearance he didn't like was a robot,"

    ... I think Nathan Adler still posts here sometimes. He pointed out to me once that -- given the Dr. Doom parallel -- it's appropriate that Sabretooth's name eventually was revealed as "Victor."

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  24. @Dan: I always hated the idea of Sinister being the avatar of an old mutant trapped in a child's body. It's too complicated and just kind of silly.

    I agree with Dan. I actually think he works much better as a Victorian-era mad scientist who looks like a vampire and runs creepy orphanages. If CC wanted to make him some manifestation of a kid's fears that's one thing, but like Dan said, it doesn't really work if the "kid" is supposed to be a mutant who doesn't age. And since I'm with Dan, Matt and Jason that the character design and name are great, I don't want to hear that it's supposed to intentionally ridiculous. Making Gambit another projection honestly makes no sense at all to me.

    I kind of don't like how non-CC writers tied Apocalypse into his back story, but that's because I think he's a strong enough villain to stand on his own. Also, anything involving Dark Beast in the 616-universe never happened.

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  25. @Jason: I think when I first heard that Claremont intended it to be something a kid came up with, hence its corniness, I was suggestible enough that I nodded my head and said, "Yeah, I guess the name is kind of corny."

    When I read interviews with Claremont about that storyline, I feel like he's kind of embarrassed by the characters or something and is trying to hand wave that away by saying "That's what kids are afraid of." Maybe I'm off base, but it always felt dismissive of the characters to me, like Claremont had changed his mind about them or something.

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  26. Big fan of this issue, particularly the set piece near the end with Dazzler riding that huge steel girder collection into the ocean. I love Silvestri's work here, have I mentioned that? Its true.

    Nothing intelligent to add, just that the next issue is even better.

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  27. @Teemu: // Someone ... made a point about Marauders that they really complement their not-so-impressive powers by using them in proper team-play fashion: Vertigo messes the enemies' balance, then Arclight punches ground to take them off their feet and then the rest are free to finish them with energy harpoons and whatnot. //

    It was in a comment on Jason's post on Uncanny #221 over at Geoff Klock's blog Remarkable. (I've finally caught up the point where I mostly go to read his post on the issue du jour — well, de la semaine — after I've read the issue itself and before coming here to Teebore's post.) It's really intrigued me as I read it, but it's not something that I got from the comics themselves, so if it was intentional then at the very least Claremont didn't make it explicit enough for my puny brain.

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  28. "Maybe I'm off base, but it always felt dismissive of the characters to me, like Claremont had changed his mind about them or something. "

    I think it was always his intention. The Classic X-Men backups in 41-42 strongly suggest it. And Weezie drops a big hint in X-Factor 39 (Inferno conclusion) as well.

    But there's no way to know for sure, I guess. Claremont did tend to change his mind mid-story, a lot.

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  29. @Jason: I probably worded that wrong. I believe that was his intention to reveal that as Sinister's origin, I just don't know if I buy that he thought that Gambit and Sinister were supposed to be corny at the time. But that's just guessing on my part, I have no real idea!

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  30. @Jason: Claremont did tend to change his mind mid-story, a lot.

    How much did that happen without an editorial mandate or some other external factor screwing up what he wanted to do, though?

    @Blam: ... it's not something that I got from the comics themselves, so if it was intentional then at the very least Claremont didn't make it explicit enough for my puny brain.

    Hah... to my delight I recently found in my local library a treatise by a Finnish fellow about
    "Superheroes - a phenomena in American comics" where he in the chapter concerning X-Men references a Claremont interview from 1979: "Soon the readers started to read more in the book than actually was there and we at Marvel did nothing to discourage them - more like the contrary."

    Hilariously, can't omit to mention, in the final chapter of the book he scratches the surface of the Reagan era comics like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and the perceived fascism of the superheroes in them and ends with the ominous warning: "If the readers go on to take shine on these heroes of Miller and Moore then Fredric Wertham has sadly been right." The year of publication was 1991.

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  31. @Jason: Mr. Sinister probably makes my Top Ten All-Time Favorite X-Characters list.

    Ditto. Easily.

    Plus, Maddie's becoming a regular character here is great.

    I have a great deal of affection for the character, and of course it pretty much all comes from this next run of issues leading into "Inferno".

    @Blam: The Marauders are still pretty much ciphers — a bunch of new villains with terrible designs whom I've been told (and, yes, to an extent shown) are chillingly lethal yet who remain less than even two-dimensional.

    Unfortunately, the won't ever rise above the level of barely-two dimensional ciphers. Claremont basically uses them as extremely effective cannon fodder, and while I would have loved for him to use them more often than he does (and perhaps flesh them out as characters more in the process), I have to admit I find something appealing in the fact that they're nothing more than really efficient and ruthless henchmen. For as much as I love and appreciate the complexity of a Magneto or Dr. Doom, sometimes it's nice to have villains who are just there to give the heroes someone colorful to fight against.

    Perhaps the Marauders aren't meant to be another reflection — I'm not even sure if all of them are mutants, although some are, which makes their mission stranger

    I'm not sure if Claremont intended for them to be another dark reflection, though it could be argued that the "dark reflection" role has been vacated by both the Inner Circle (who are now the X-Men's allies) and Freedom Force (who we'll shortly see start to work with the X-Men, briefly, on a few occasions). I *think* they are all mutants though (except of course Vertigo, who is technically a mutate, whatever that distinction may be), again, whether Claremont intended them to be or not I'm pretty sure they've been established as such at one point or another by now.

    the question is also begged of why all the mutants aren't banding together right now to hunt down these mercenaries preemptively

    Yeah, that's a legitimate question, and one that is never properly answered. Heck, the X-Men even *talk* about preemptively hunting them down, but never really do.

    When I first encountered Mister Sinister in Inferno, sampling the X-titles for the first time in a few years, I assumed that he was some evil counterpart of Colossus'

    I first encountered Mr. Sinister in the 90s, and I wonder if his look (or Colossus') had changed enough by then to differentiate them, because I never made that connection, yet I know you weren't alone in that assumption, and I can certainly see it now. Maybe I was just too dumb a kid?

    There's clearly a huge imbalance, no matter one's age, in reading older material that's almost completely new to you rather than either reading it knowing (and really enjoying) the later material to which it builds and/or rereading it having loved it as a first exposure to vast superhero-comics sagas.

    Definitely. One of the reasons I've been reluctant to dive into the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans stuff is a fear that, after so many years of hearing it's praises sung, I'll read it and be underwhelemed, as I never read it as kid and have only nominal affection for the characters (and then, really only the "sidekick" characters and not the Wolfman/Perez originals). My hope is that the execution, as I've been told, is strong enough to overcome the need for nostalgia or familiarity to truly enjoy it, but I'm still a little apprehensive.

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  32. @Dan: That said, I think Sinister's great. He doesn't need a complicated origin. He's bad, likes to work behind the scenes, and is really powerful if he actually has to get his hands dirty.

    Agreed. Though I like the obsession with Summers DNA. Helps make my favorite character more important. :)

    @Teemu: It's disturbing really how in the Claremontian world you can add a sense of otherness to villains just by withholding them having next to any thought-bubbles. Compare to Sebastian Shaw or Mystique

    That's a really great observation, especially since it can change over time as Claremont decides to flesh out one villain or another.

    @Matt: Thing is, I still think it's cool now, and not in any sort of ironic way. It's just an awesome name for a bad guy. Which means as a thirty-five year old adult, I think I should feel a little insulted!

    Ha! Indeed. I too have always liked the name unironically - as Jason says, it's in the tradition of Dr. Doom.

    He didn't spend all those years at gentlemen's school to have the honorific dropped from his name!

    Ha again! I shall henceforth do my best to afford him the respect he's earned. :)

    The reason I liked the guy so much was his involvement in everything. There was a period in the nineties when, if an X-writer had something they needed to explain, they could refer to the ol' playbook and provide a succinct, simple answer: "Mr. Sinister." ... I ate it up and I loved it.

    Right there with you. I was absolutely captivated by Mr. Sinister the behind-the-scenes schemer. I tend to really like those types of characters in fiction, and in a chicken-or-egg thing, I have no idea if that's why I like Mr. Sinister, or if I like that type of character because of Mr. Sinister.

    @Jeff: I kind of don't like how non-CC writers tied Apocalypse into his back story, but that's because I think he's a strong enough villain to stand on his own.

    I've always liked the idea of Mr. Sinister working against Apocalypse (and manipulating the creation of Cable to that end), but I was disappointed when they eventually revealed that Mr. Sinister's look/longevity/powers all came from Apocalypse.

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  33. @Teemu: // a Claremont interview from 1979: "Soon the readers started to read more in the book than actually was there and we at Marvel did nothing to discourage them - more like the contrary." //

    No doubt. I've spoken to several creators about that phenomenon. The more intricately plotted a project is or simply the more hifalutin its aspirations seem to be, the more depth and concordance it's assumed to have, particularly given how material like the stuff we're reading now and what it leads to have conditioned fans to expect payoffs and hidden relationships and master plans, sometimes to the detriment of the overall experience.

    @Teebore: // One of the reasons I've been reluctant to dive into the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans stuff is a fear that, after so many years of hearing it's praises sung, I'll read it and be underwhelemed //

    I think I mentioned this earlier when comparisons between the X-Men and Titans series came up, but I reread their entire run and more maybe a half-dozen years ago and, while both the pure nostalgia and the appreciation for what they were doing in the context of the times were completely intact, I did cringe on occasion at what were perhaps still incontrovertible tropes. You couldn't use "God" or "Jesus" as an expletive, so a college-age Robin would say things like "Dear Lord, I-- I didn't know!"; "What the hell" (or stronger, obviously) was still replaced by "What in blazes," and so on. I can't speak as to what it'd be like coming to it new, though, which is exactly what we're saying. Go figure.

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  34. "Heck, the X-Men even *talk* about preemptively hunting them down, but never really do. "

    Sure they do! :)

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  35. It's not clear what Doctor Strange 9 has to do with this issue. Dormammu and Umar fight Strange and Clea near the Grand Canyon and the readers learn Umar is Clea's mother. Claremont never did clearly explain what the connection was.

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  36. @Jason: Sure they do!

    Well, they take their sweet time doing it! :)

    @Anonymous: Dormammu and Umar fight Strange and Clea near the Grand Canyon and the readers learn Umar is Clea's mother. Claremont never did clearly explain what the connection was.

    And, of course, he later retcons out the events of that issue as being significant to the Adversary's arrival on Earth, so it's ultimately a moot point anyway.

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  37. @Dan: I always hated the idea of Sinister being the avatar of an old mutant trapped in a child's body. It's too complicated and just kind of silly. Claremont said Sinister's name and appearance were supposed to be a reflection of a child's ideal villain, but he wasn't really a child, so why would he go with something "kewl" if he was, in fact, older than everyone else?

    It never bothered me, I think because no matter how old he "actually" is, I interpret Claremont's plans for Nathan Essex as that he absolutely WAS still a child, because he'd never mentally aged. Becoming an adult is about so much more than just years passing... it's the experiences you have in adolescence, your changing hormones, maturity, etc. Nathan will never know rejection by a lover, or acceptance by another; he'll never figure out how to settle conflicts with words and compromise when fists and name-calling are no longer socially acceptable; his boys will never drop. To me, he's less like Claudia from "Interview with the Vampire," and more like a malevolent Peter Pan (who was already kind of creepy).

    As for the continuing lack of a reason for the Mutant Massacre, I could swear I've read an interview with Claremont where it was indicated that the reason Essex did it was the exact same reason Mr. Sinister's look was so over-the-top eeeeeevil. That is to say, he ordered the Massacre for absolutely no other reason than that it's the sort of thing (a 10-year-old would think) a really, really evil supervillain should do. The pointlessness of it WAS the point, as it were.

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