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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #226

"Go Tell the Spartans"
February 1988

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men and Freedom Force team-up in the face of the Adversary's attack in Dallas. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Marc Silvestri & Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Oliver & Wray
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In Dallas, the X-Men, along with a captive Mystique, are gathered inside Eagle Plaza when Longshot notes that sunlight is pouring in through the hole in the night sky. Outside, the captured X-Men attempt to escape, but their battle stops short when Dallas is suddenly transformed into a chaotic landscape of different eras, from the prehistoric to the futuristic. Meanwhile, Forge and Storm find themselves on a parallel Earth created by the Adversary to be their prison, and Storm cares for the injured Forge. In Dallas, the X-Men and Freedom Force call a truce in order to help defend the city as reporters Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell broadcast to the world their efforts to save civilians from various extratemporal menaces.


Back on the parallel Earth, a recovered Forge and Storm discover that Forge's mountain of power has been destroyed on this world as well. Forge suggests they can simply live out their lives together, but Storm declines, leaving to find her own path. In Dallas, the X-Men and Freedom Force gather refugees outside Eagle Plaza. Elsewhere, Storm has arrived in parallel Africa, her quest leading her to realize that this world has no soul. In Dallas, a Cheyenne war party arrives to help battle the Adversary, but the Adversary, disguised as a Texan, triggers a massacre in which the Cheyenne are killed. Meanwhile, Psylocke learns Colossus was sent to Dallas by Roma, and since Colossus is being drawn to Eagle Plaza, the X-Men go inside to discover the Adversary has transformed the building in a Vietnamese jungle, complete with Viet Cong.


Psylocke announces she can sense and locate Roma. Suspecting a trap, Wolverine nonetheless insists on tracking down Roma, saying that if the X-Men are going to die anyway, he'd rather go out doing something meaningful, and the rest of the X-Men agree. Elsewhere, Forge and Storm agree to try and return to Earth and stop the Adversary. Using a device he cobbled together, Forge manages to restore Storm's powers, after which she's able to power a portal to send them home. Back on Earth, the Adversary senses their arrival and drops his disguise, seemingly destroying Eagle Plaza with Neal, Maddie and the X-Men inside.

Firsts and Other Notables
Storm regains her powers in this issue, courtesy of a device built by Forge during their time in the parallel world to which the Adversary sent them, thus ending her tenure as an interesting character (Kidding! A little...). He notes that his original Neutralizer essentially just suppressed her ability to consciously access her power, not eliminate the power entirely, and suggests that she may have even subconsciously influenced the weather at times, providing an explanation for those times (such as issue #201 and the Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men limited series) when just such a thing seemed to occur. 


This issue marks the first appearance of Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell, a reporter and camera operator who make it into Dallas, commander a futuristic news van, and proceed to broadcast the events inside the city, including the X-Men's acts of heroism, to the world. Neal, who reported on the trial of Magneto in issue #200 but was unseen, as well as Manoli, become semi-recurring characters for Claremont, basically whenever he needs a TV journalist for a story.


In the wake of the chaos engulfing the city, the X-Men and Freedom Force declare a truce in this issue. Though Freedom Force will continue to make appearances in the series and be formally opposed to the X-Men, as well as act unscrupulously elsewhere, this effectively marks the end of any direct X-Men/Freedom Force conflicts in Uncanny X-Men.

As with the middle chapters of all the "Fall of the Mutants" stories, this issue is double-sized. So keep in mind that means this week I'm essentially reviewing SIX issues. 

A Work in Progress
The "X-Men will die in Dallas" gets an equally-alliterative time stamp from Destiny this issue: they will die at dawn.

Before the truce is called, Spiral attacks Dazzler, fusing Destiny's mask to her face with magic (the dagger sticking out holds the mask on but doesn't affect Dazzler), blinding her, a condition that remains through next issue. There's probably some symbolism on Claremont's part here, but I've never been able to parse it (granted, I've never tried very hard), and it ends up reading as just an odd little detail that Dazzler spends most of this story blind, with Destiny's mask stuck to her face by a magic knife.


After a group of present day rednecks callously slaughter a group of Cheyenne who arrived to help battle the Adversary, a horrified Crimson Commando wonders if humanity is even worth saving, a nice little character bit for him in the midst of all the big action.


X-Factor's battle in New York with Apocalypse is referenced (though the footnote that references the current issue of that series should point to #25, not #26), and it's established that both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are being held in reserve until its determined which situation (New York or Dallas) needs their help more.


Destiny refers to Colossus' presence in Dallas as a "temporal fluke".


Psylocke knows who Roma is - I assume they interacted during Psylocke's time as a supporting character in her brother's series.


I Love the 80s
Forge tells Storm that the Adversary views his foes as pieces in the game he's playing, and that he'd rather keep Forge and Storm alive as pawns than kill them outright.


While the Cheyenne's knowledge of the Adversary, in-universe, makes sense (both Forge and Naze are Cheyenne, and had been preparing to battle him for some time), it's unclear why they arrive dressed like it's the 1800s.


Claremontisms
Dazzler is able to partially absorb the shockwave from Super Sabre's sonic boom move, dulling the effect, an example of two clever Claremont power usages battling it out with each other. Also, Spiral is calling Dazzler "Lightengale" now.


In addition to the allusion in the story's title, Wolverine explicitly compares the X-Men and Freedom Force to the Spartans at Thermopylae.


The Best There is at What He Does
This issue opens with Wolverine still recovering from last issue's laser-induced injuries, and reminds us that Wolverine still feels the pain from his injuries as they heal.

Human/Mutant Relations
Neal and Manolli debate the heroism of the X-Men, with Manolli insisting its the power the X-Men have that makes them dangerous, as power corrupts.


Havok points out that for the first time, there are cameras capturing the X-Men in action.


When the Adversary-as-Texan starts badmouthing mutants, Mystique tells him to get out before she forgets which side she's on. 


For Sale
Remember Captain Power? Probably not. But for a hot minute there in the late 80s, I thought these action figures were the coolest damn thing (the one or two I had, at least), even without owning the thing that interacted with the TV that was the whole schtick of this particular toy line.


Teebore's Take
With the middle chapter of each series' "Fall of the Mutants" storyline a double sized issue, the bulk of each story gets handled there, with the final issues serving more as a denouement for the storyline. Uncanny X-Men is a little different, in that the X-Men's final confrontation with the Adversary is saved for next issue, but this issue still manages to move all the players, including Storm and Forge, into place for the climax.

But as important as this issue is to the overall "Fall of the Mutants" plot, where it really shines is in the smaller moments that spin off from the central conflict: the novelty of the X-Men and Freedom Force teaming up in the face of a greater threat (a favorite technique of Claremonts; he did the same thing with the Hellfire Club and Nimrod back in issue #209), the running commentary on how dying in the defense of others is a worthy sacrifice, Crimson Commando's horror when the rednecks needlessly slaughter the Cheyenne, Neal and Manoli's mounting respect for the X-Men, the offhand reveal that WWII vet Super Sabre had a son who served in Vietnam, Mystique's refusal to abandon the X-Men to their fate (and Wolverine's well-reasoned rebuttal: that the people of Dallas still need help and Freedom Force has more clout with the government to get it), the irony of the X-Men getting a chance to prove their heroics even while Destiny maintains they're on the verge of death, even Blob tossing an objecting Mystique over his shoulder and hightailing it out of Eagle Plaza as the building explodes.

These moments seamlessly blend plot, theme, character and action: the Cheyenne arrive to help battle the Adversary (plot), but the rednecks decide to kill them (theme and action), prompting Crimson Commando to wonder if humanity is even worth saving (character). Once again, Claremont is showing his skill at weaving together all the various elements of a comic book story, even quieter, seemingly-offhand moments as well the big ones involving main characters or significant plot points. The end result is an issue that while, overall, an important chapter in the ongoing story, is even more entertaining and enjoyable for its parts than for its whole.      

Next Issue
Tomorrow, a New Mutant falls in New Mutants #60, and Friday, X-Factor battles the Horsemen in X-Factor #25. Next week, the final showdown between the X-Men and the Adversary in Uncanny X-Men #227.

15 comments:

  1. So, just before returning Storm her powers, Forge told her to "consider the price of it, for it is considerable", Storm told him to "do tell" and then it goes off-panel until we see lightnings and, well, Storm... was there ever any follow-through what the price might have been and what came off from it?

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  2. Yeah, this is a really great issue. Silvestri's art is really fantastic, too. His version of Mystique is one of my absolute favorites.

    Almost every scene contains some kind of dramatic vow about loyalty or sacrifice, and darn it, Claremont makes all of them work. He just knows how to do big stakes and mix in great character beats.

    You pointed out the two scenes I was going to bring up as some of the more bizarre things I've read in a comic. The first one is Spiral's attack on Dazzler, which is so odd and complex, but I guess memorably so.

    The other one is the scene with the Cheyenne war party. I wonder if there was some confusion between Silvestri and Claremont as to whether they were supposed to be a temporal anomaly or something, because it is really weird to see them dressed like they rode in out of a John Ford film. I also find it odd that the X-Men and Freedom Force still choose to hang out with the disguised Adversary after he massacres them. I do like the touch of him driving around in a truck labeled 'Coyote' as a clue to who he actually is.

    Anyway, issues like this are basically what made me an X-Men fan.

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  3. @ Jeff: I do like the touch of him driving around in a truck labeled 'Coyote' as a clue to who he actually is.

    That... is actually a pretty awesome touch in a story which starts with Val Cooper setting FFoxes to catch other foXes.

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  4. "Storm regains her powers in this issue, courtesy of a device built by Forge during their time in the parallel world to which the Adversary sent them, thus ending her tenure as an interesting character (Kidding! A little...)."

    I really DO think this is the end of Storm as a character. I'd actually go so far as to argue that Storm is Claremont's most realized creation: she's a rare comic book character whose story has a clear and consistent arc over 100+ issues. This is just the end of it.

    From the beginning, her major struggle has been balancing her powers-- which have to be kept emotionally in check at all times-- with her ability to function as a real person with real human emotions.

    First, she tries to turn herself into a serene, remote Earth Mother. When that begins to backfire, she rebels by going punk-- another pose.

    It's not until she loses her powers that she learns how to function as a normal person, and when she gets them back, she's finally able to integrate the different sides of herself. In other words: the end.

    And it IS the end. She certainly doesn't distinguish herself whatsoever during the Australian era. I think Claremont's somewhat baffling decision to de-age her was his attempt to start again from scratch with a character who had really just completed her journey. After Claremont leaves, subsequent writers just stop trying.

    In another medium than comics, a character's story would just be over when it's over. Instead, because this is a never-ending medium in which things can't change TOO much, she has to keep on chugging along, leaving readers to endure her imperiously bland Storminess for the next 25+ years after she really should have retired.

    (This all goes for Jean too, obviously.)

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  5. Another great issue, and a great example of what Claremont was so good at: namely developing a multitude of unique voices, and staging interesting fights. I love moments you didn't even really talk about, like Pyro flash-frying a dinosaur, then bragging to the Galleria-shoppers about it, or Dazzler considering making a break for it, but stopping when she realizes she needs to help Psylocke.

    And I knew there was some explanation of her latent weather powers in those issues! I seem to recall you blowing off that subplot ever paying off. And I'd argue Storm's not completely dead as a character until the 1-2 punch of Claremont leaving and a truly goofy voice actress on the cartoon.

    Also I just started reading Claremont's Fantastic Four and you'll never guess what news team makes an appearance!

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  6. I think Storm stays interesting through the Outback Era. You get to see her dealing with the fallout of her "fake our deaths" plan. I think kid Storm is really the end of the character. That plot line just doesn't work. If Claremont had waited two more issues he could have just have her been amnesiac after going through the Siege Perilous to accomplish the same goal and we wouldn't be needing to be discussing Nanny and Orphan Maker in 20 issues.

    Orphan Maker might win the the "Coolest Name on a Lame Character" award.

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  7. As far as I know, Betsy never met Roma before this issue. She probably saw her in Brian's memories.
    Storm's problem after this is that she essentially *fails completely* but this is never addressed. Logan wants to kill Gateway, but Storm insists, based on nothing but her arrogant belief that she can read people, that Gateway can be trusted. Except that Logan WAS right- they leave Maddie with Gateway and he stands by and does nothing when the demons turn her evil and doesn't warn the X-Men afterward. Which would be fine- if this was actually addressed somehow.

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  8. Has someone mentioned yet that Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell are real-life people who work for the real-life NPR?

    They're both friends of Chris Claremont.

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  9. "Rogue, reconnoiter Forge's penthouse."
    "Spiral, get there first."

    Another great character moment. (Reminded of it reading some of the panels you posted.)

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  10. Every time I read this issue, I have trouble with Storm's journey from parallel Dallas to parallel Africa -- and back -- in much less than a year. How???

    "Storm regains her powers in this issue..."

    And loses the mohawk which had long outstayed its welcome, to boot! Sadly, it's many more years before artists finally restore her face to normal. Everyone continues to follow the Silvestri model of giving her much smaller eyes, well into the nineties. I think it's Joe Madureira who finally returns her to something resembling the Cockrum/Byrne look.

    "Neal, [...] as well as Manoli, become semi-recurring characters for Claremont..."

    Even at other companies! I believe he used them in a few issues of his creator-owned Sovereign 7 over at DC. They're like Claremont's version of Mantis.

    "...it's established that both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are being held in reserve until its determined which situation (New York or Dallas) needs their help more."

    With all due respect to Claremont, what a terrible, awful justification for the other teams' absence in these stories. Can anybody imagine the Avengers just twiddling their thumbs at their mansion (or Hydrobase) while Apocalypse's ship hovers right over New York City? Even if they had a government liaison ordering them to stay put, they would find a away around the red tape or just outright ignore it.

    And the logic is even sillier when you consider that there is a West Coast Avengers team at this point who could easily fly into Texas to help out, while the East Coast team could assist X-Factor against Apocalypse. The old "both teams are away on missions" excuse would be much easier to swallow.

    "While the Cheyenne's knowledge of the Adversary, in-universe, makes sense [...] it's unclear why they arrive dressed like it's the 1800s."

    I always used to assume these guys were time-warped in from the past, like the barbarians and such. It was only during a recent re-reading that I realized they must be from the present due to their mention of Forge. So maybe it's a ceremonial thing? When you're going into battle agains the Adversary, tradition dictates that you dress the part?


    Anonymous -- "As far as I know, Betsy never met Roma before this issue. She probably saw her in Brian's memories."

    I thought Betsy was present when Roma explained their father's backstory to Brian? Or was it Mastermind who did that explanation. I guess I should look at the book tonight. Though at any rate, even if she never met Roma in person, she certainly must have heard about her.

    Jason -- "Has someone mentioned yet that Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell are real-life people who work for the real-life NPR?

    They're both friends of Chris Claremont.
    "

    And, per a Comic Book Legends Revealed column, apparently there was a lawsuit to decide whether or not Neal's name was copyrighted by Marvel. Which is so asinine, you have to chuckle about it.

    Jason -- "'Rogue, reconnoiter Forge's penthouse.'
    'Spiral, get there first.'

    Another great character moment. (Reminded of it reading some of the panels you posted.)
    "

    I like it too, because it's got kind of a dual read. Mystique is showing up the X-Men with Spiral's superior power set, while at the same protecting her foster daughter by sending Spiral ahead, presumably to make sure Rogue won't die up there as soon as she enters the place.

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  11. Thank you, Matt, for that Rogue-Mystique-Spiral -point, I had never thought it like that. Could it be that Mystique at this point was totally ok with not having to put up with Spiral anymore, with her default action being slitting open his throat with Super-Sabre and all? Do we see Spiral with the FF after this?

    I know at not-far-away later point Mystique will seek Wolverine's help, among other things, in his solo book because Spiral had lost the rest of her marbles, not that she had a full set to begin with. (I just love talking about past things that will happen in the future)

    Which was cool because that bedroom scene where Raven is being asked to just be herself apparently is the only scene that had Wolverine in the original but was changed to be someone else in the movie version.

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  12. I'm sorrier than ever after reading this issue that I was driven away during the JRJr. era.

    Nice bit: On the cover — which, looking at it again, I notice is entirely symbolic; really, nothing like this scene is inside — you can see Wolverine's claws sheathed in his forearm.

    How the f--- did Storm get from Colorado to Africa? ("Practice!")

    // it's established that both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are being held in reserve //

    Yeah, I'm sorry, no. Like Matt, I would honestly prefer the lame old excuse of them being off-planet, in another dimension, or just incommunicado. Given that each team has handled Earth-imperiling threats before on their own, and there's in fact one team for each of the two trouble spots, I don't buy the government or the groups themselves opting to wait. Also like Matt, I thought of the West Coast Avengers when debating whether the East Coast groups might at least stay in NYC to deal with Apocalypse's ship. Unlike Matt, I'm even willing to invoke Southwestern superteam The Rangers — Firebird, Red Wolf, Night Rider, Texas Twister, and somebody else [Googling... and... Shooting Star!].

    // Dazzler spends most of this story blind, with Destiny's mask stuck to her face by a magic knife //

    Great weird visual, albeit not one I'd expect to find in X-Men. It's the sword halfway into her head pinning the mask on that makes it extra creepy, of course, not that Destiny's faceplate with the lips but no eyes is a happy image on its own.

    // While the Cheyenne's knowledge of the Adversary, in-universe, makes sense ... , it's unclear why they arrive dressed like it's the 1800s. //

    I got the impression that they arrived from the 1800s — or whenever. The chief's first line to Crimson Commando ("I speak your tongue, White Eye") suggests that he's from a much earlier time and, for Matt, the way I read it he doesn't so much refer to Forge by name as a euphemistic job description ("our medicine chief -- the maker of things, our forge that reshapes spirit into reality").

    Dazzler absorbing the sonic boom was a great touch.

    For what it's worth, I'm not sure I ever heard the fear of mutants being expressed in terms of the tenet that power corrupts as opposed to the whole freak-of-nature thing. The argument is expandable to people who've acquired powers by other means than genetic mutation, although in contrast to how the cultural hatred or fear of mutants, specifically, is usually depicted I don't get the sense that Manoli necessarily exempts other superheroes from her concern.

    Man, Destiny just keeps looking more ancient.

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  13. Yeah, the Indians were totally time-warped native Americans. When Crimson Commando says that Forge built the plaza the chief says "I know not of who you speak" or something like that...then he gets shot.

    It's weird that Storm & Forge didn't stay together and get married after this. They sure went through almost literal hell together and seemed to really be in love. I'm reading the Jim Lee era X-Men books now (currently on issue 6) & those two are pretty much on the same team. But, they show absolutely no love for one another. They don't even secretly pine for each another in the classic X-men fashion or anything!...weird.

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  14. Yeah, the Indians were totally time-warped native Americans. When Crimson Commando says that Forge built the plaza the chief says "I know not of who you speak" or something like that...then he gets shot.

    I just reread that scene and I think you're right. I think the fact that he gets shot mid-sentence makes it a little confusing though.

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  15. @Reese: It's weird that Storm & Forge didn't stay together and get married after this. They sure went through almost literal hell together and seemed to really be in love.

    The next issue may cause a hiccup regarding the "till death do us part" part of the generally used vows on that one, because in that issue everybody, well...

    I'm reading the Jim Lee era X-Men books now (currently on issue 6) & those two are pretty much on the same team. But, they show absolutely no love for one another. They don't even secretly pine for each another in the classic X-men fashion or anything!...weird.

    Isn't the infamous "I would have... would have said... 'yes'" story about to come up on the Uncanny right at this time around?

    Which makes me want to ask, do we have a commonly agreed spoilers policy here, regarding these stories that saw their publication 25 ago? :D

    All things considering, I'm not sure if Ben knew it when talking about the end of Storm as a character in his post, but he totally answered to my question I asked in the very first comment: Storm gets her powers back, but as the price she loses her powerless story arc and love story arc both in this story and gets nothing to replace them.

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