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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #228

"Deadly Games!"
April 1988

In a Nutshell 
A pointless fill-in issue. 

Scripter: Chris Claremont
Guest Penciler: Rick Leonardi
Guest Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Bill Wray
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Guest Plotter, Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
At a bar, O.Z. Chase reads a letter from Dazzler, detailing a recent adventure they shared: at the mansion, Dazzler learns that her old friend Chase has been arrested for murder and is believed to be a werewolf. She rushes to Florida to help him, reluctantly accepting help from Wolverine, who joins her. Arriving in Florida, they discover KGB agents are after Chase for information regarding his last job, and Wolverine breaks him out of prison so they can track down his last bounty: a Soviet mutant named Zaitsev, with whom Wolverine has tangled before, and who has set himself up as a drug lord after betraying both America and Russia. At their hotel, Dazzler, Wolverine and Chase are approached by Henry Gyrich, who requests that Zaitsev be taken alive and turned over to him. The trio track Zaitsev to a nearby swamp, and after Zaitsev dispatches the KGB agents, they attack, with Chases's dog Cerberus finishing Zaitsev off, despite Gyrich's orders. In the present, as Chase finishes the letter, a patron at the bar cheers the death of the X-Men, but Chase and Cerberus angrily force everyone to toast the X-Men. Later, in his truck, Chase gives one final, tearful toast to his friend Dazzler. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is a fill-in story told mostly in flashback involving Dazzler and Wolverine working together to help O.Z. Chase, a bounty hunter and supporting character from the very end of Dazzler's solo title (he first appeared in issue #38 of her series), take down a mutant Soviet spy, another in the long line of one-off incidental characters with whom Wolverine knows from or has tangled with in the past.

According to the Marvel Chronology Project, this is Chase's seventh and final appearance in comics to date.

This is the first issue of this series in forever in which Claremont is credited as only the scripter, not the full writer, as EiC Tom DeFalco contributes the plot. The involvement of DeFalco, who wrote a good chunk of Dazzler's solo series back in the day, probably explains the focus on Dazzler (Wolverine, of course, is involved because this is 1988 and he's Wolverine), though DeFalco didn't write the issues of Dazzler which featured Chase. 

The idea is that the story we're reading is what Chase is reading in the letter Dazzler sent him, except that Chase is involved in the story detailed in the letter, so Dazzler is...reminding him of events he experienced himself?  

Wolverine mentions his past as a secret agent, and it's revealed that Henry Peter Gyrich (former Avengers government liasion, head of Project: Wideawake and colleague of Val Cooper) was his CIA contact during his time as a Canadian agent, something that I don't think ever gets referenced again. 


The Art Adams-drawn Wolverine from the cover of Heroes For Hope pops up in the corner box.

The Chronology Corner
While the framing sequence takes place after the death of the X-Men last issue, the letter Chase is reading was written by Dazzler while she was Alcatraz with the X-Men, circa issue #223-#224, while the story she relays in that letter seems to take place between issues #220 and #221 (before the X-Men leave for San Fransisco), as Storm is absent but the X-Men are still at the mansion, though the Official Marvel Index considers it to take place between issues #218 and #219.

A Work in Progress
In the flashback story, Dazzler is still bristling about having been a solo act before joining the X-Men. 


The issue ends with Chase toasting the dead X-Men.


Claremontisms
Dazzler casually refers to some local cops as the "gendarmerie", a word choice which seems more like something Claremont would use than Dazzler.


Bullpen Bulletins
X-Factor editor and future Marvel and DC Grand Poo-Pah Bob Harras gets profiled.


Teebore's Take
It's understandable that after the grind of "Fall of the Mutants", including a double-sized issue, a fill-in would be required, but this is the most fill-in-y issue of all the possible fill-ins. There are a couple-three Claremont penned issues that I personally like less than this one (mainly because their art is terrible), but this is arguably the least-essential issue of Claremont's entire run, a simple story of Dazzler and Wolverine teaming up to help Dazzler's bounty hunter buddy O.Z. Chase take down a Soviet mutant spy. If you were a big fan of Dazzler's solo series, then I suppose seeing Chase again might be fun, but this is otherwise entirely inconsequential.

Even the most intriguing idea - that Henry Peter Gyrich was Wolverine's CIA handler back in his pre-X-Men espionage days - gets routinely ignored moving forward. And while the idea of showing an ancillary or supporting character react to the apparent death of the X-Men is a decent idea (hell, the formation of Excalibur is built around the idea), it only accounts for a handful of panels in a framing sequence, and if you asked me to make a list of the characters I'd like to see react to the death of the X-Men, O.Z. Chase (who doesn't even warrant his own Wikipedia page) wouldn't even crack the top 150.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we catch up with Amara in New Mutants #62, and Friday, X-Factor celebrates Christmas in X-Factor #27. Next week, let the Australia jokes begin as the X-Men go down under in Uncanny X-Men #229.

15 comments:

  1. The idea is that the story we're reading is what Chase is reading in the letter Dazzler sent him, except that Chase is involved in the story detailed in the letter, so Dazzler is...reminding him of events he experienced himself?

    Oof. I understand the necessary evils of exposition, but that's really forcing it.

    This is one of my absolute least favorite X-Men covers ever. One of my main gripes is that greying out all the figures makes it really confusing at first glance if that's supposed to be an angel statue or Angel carrying off the X-Men. Or if they're spirits or statues. Or that it tells you almost nothing about the comic inside. Also, if he wasn't wearing his signature boots, would you even be able to tell that's Wolverine?

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  2. I'm totally going to start sending e-mails of stuff we've done together in the past.

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  3. If you think this is bad, in one of Gerry Conway's Spider-Man issues, Robbie is sentenced to jail, MJ asks "How could this be happening?" and Peter takes it as his cue to recap the last several issues for her, even though she was there for most of the events.

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  4. I kind of like the cover. Yes, I see many of the faults Jeff has with it, but it's still a striking image, and it got my attention.

    Overall, this issue is pointless, but at least it's not horribly done. It's not the worst story to kill time with, and unlike some issues we'll be seeing later on, at least it looks good. I think Rick Leonardi did so much fill-in work on this title he may as well be listed as an unofficial co-artist.

    This issue could have worked had we seen the reactions of other X-supporting characters (Stevie Hunter, Banshee, Moira, Callisto, etc) reacting to the deaths of the X-men, not to mention a few villains as well. But, since it seems DeFalco really felt that he needed to tie up things between Dazzler and O.Z. Chase, we got this instead.

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  5. I'm fine with not showing the reactions of more significant characters. That kind of thing feels cheap to me when the characters being mourned aren't really dead.

    I agree with the esteemed Mr. Wwk5d that the basic story being told here is perfectly entertaining. I think it mainly suffers from all the redundant framing devices that others have already commented on. A flashback to two months ago when Dazzler wrote a letter that flashed back to a few months before that? (And there's even another flashback nested in there, as I recall ... doesn't Wolverine flashback to his first fight with the Russian dude?)

    Just weird, sloppy, and unnecessary.

    And put me down on the side of "hates the cover" too.

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  6. I... kind of liked it. During the lengthy stint that Chris had it's kind of nice to see an X-Men story plotted by someone else than him, and specifically on the pages of Uncanny rather than guest-starring somewhere. It's a bit like having a re-interpretation of sorts of the characters that's definitely canonical while totally ignorable if it's not for one's taste.

    I can't find in my heart the strength to complain about having this epiloguish snack bite before entering the Outback era.

    It also works for me to have the Dazzler solo adventure to be done away with now, because as the one X-Men having her own title before Wolverine or anyone I feel she's kind of entitled for having one. I also don't thing we should complain that a dangler (or sorts) from Dazzler's solo title gets tied up on Claremont's watch because way too often character's former history gets ignored when someone adopts the character.

    Claremont seems to have fairly good track record on that though, as witnessed also by incorporation of Captain Britain mythos into Excalibur?

    Originally Rick Leonardi didn't work for me on Uncanny, but his work on Spider-Man 2099 has made me like everything he ever did in retrospection. And btw to elaborate on my recent comment on the other issue, Miquel O'hara is how you should introduce a (partly-)non-Caucasian Spider-Man legacy character: instead of concentrating on building hype on him for the ethnic angle, just make him a great character. And let the audience judge him by his deeds.

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  7. @Jason: I'm fine with not showing the reactions of more significant characters. That kind of thing feels cheap to me when the characters being mourned aren't really dead.

    Oh yes. It would be like an examination on the non-permanent character of comic book death. As Byrne has openly shared with us, Claremont spent a lot of time having characters mourn and remember Jean after Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean bouncing around alive again now might be putting some constrains on him wanting to go there again, especially as the X-Men are alive and will be meeting the supporting characters again soon enough.

    Having big mourning scenes would necessitate having big "You let me think you were dead!!1" scenes also upon them meeting again. I just love better the standard deadpan exchange "Oh, you. Weren't you dead?" "Yea I got better. mark twain lol"

    Just comic book things <3

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  8. "I'm fine with not showing the reactions of more significant characters. That kind of thing feels cheap to me when the characters being mourned aren't really dead."

    True, but it could work as a eulogy to the old status quo of the title, especially as Uncanny had it's own status quo changed the most post-FOTM. And as many of these characters don't really get seen again until after the Dissolution/Re-birth storyline circa #250, it would have been nice to check in on them one last time.

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  9. I've wondered for years what the deal was with this issue. Why, after years upon years of never missing an issue, would Claremont suddenly script over someone else's plot. I can only assume this was either prepared as an inventory issue which Marvel suddenly had to burn in the wake of the status quo change, or that it was meant for some other title somehow, but got placed in Uncanny instead. Or maybe Claremont really was close to missing his deadline this month for some reason, I guess.

    At any rate, though the story is pure filler, the artwork is nice. And it does make sense that DeFalco would plot a Dazzler-centric story, though I find it odd he's using a character who debuted after he left her series.

    I just read the Bob Harras profile. Got a chuckle out of the fact that he boasts about his ability to lie, since many pros have said he lied to them while they worked for him. Also, I just read his Nick Fury vs. SHIELD limited series for the first time a year or two ago and I really liked it! It was a little too quirky in places, and perhaps just a smidge too dark, but it was engrossing nonetheless. It read like a "reunion movie/backdoor pilot for a new show" filmed years after the original TV series had gone off the air.

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  10. I really didn't like Leonardi's work, though it's not bad in its own right. But nobody looks quite right when he drew them, compared to Sylvestri, whose work I loved. I quickly learned to dread seeing a Leonardi issue. This issue was pretty much a waste.

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  11. I like the issue fine. The story isn't much, and had I been a regular reader at the time, okay, I might've felt a little ripped off, but apart from some really odd Wolverine faces I like the art.

    Dazzler and a former supporting cast member of hers being the focus — rather than scenes of the others' loved ones mourning them — might be due to this being a fill-in pulled out of inventory rather than one prepared specifically to give Claremont, Silvestri, Green, and Oliver a break after the previous, double-sized issue. At first I figured it probably wouldn't have been plotted before Dazzler and Psylocke joined the team; honestly, though, it could've been done years before, during the period Dazzler lived at the mansion to train, and only been drawn once a scheduling problem became clear. Framing sequence aside, it could've been used whenever.

    I was distracted by Dazzler's burst insignia being on the left boob rather than centered. The Interwebs reveal that it did used to be that way, although by the time this story takes place it should be in the middle. Of course continuity is just the characters and where they've been before. 8^)

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  12. // Dazzler learns that her old friend Chase has been arrested for murder and is believed to be a werewolf. //

    I really have to give them — DeFalco/Claremont and in-story personae both — credit for jumping to that conclusion. This is the Marvel Universe, after all; heck, the publisher of one of New York's major tabloid newspapers was a werewolf. It's the opposite of those ridiculous "Lucas must be makin' a movie!" lines in the middle of a pitched superhuman battle.

    // Wolverine, of course, is involved because this is 1988 and he's Wolverine //

    That is a fair point. But I think it would also be fair to say that devoting an entire issue to just Dazzler wasn't gonna happen. She was the only member of the team at this point to ever have had her own solo series, true, but it was an overall poorly regarded series that went bimonthly and then limped to cancellation as the pet project of the previous chief.

    // except that Chase is involved in the story detailed in the letter //

    Yeah, I did a bit of a head-spin there. Having the text of a letter or book transition to flashback images, dialogue, and captions — or voiceover, in the case of TV rather than comics — also tends to raise questions of what's actually in the written material, but you figure artistic license / we're not here to just watch someone read something. I would have done away with Dazzler's narration and suggested that this was Chase's own reverie merely brought on by the letter.

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  13. "I really have to give them — DeFalco/Claremont and in-story personae both — credit for jumping to that conclusion. "

    Wait ... that's right. I forgot about the werewolf stuff. That didn't end up making sense, right? The Russian guy's power involved electricity or something? How did his M.O. have people thinking "werewolf"?

    I take back my earlier post -- this issue was bad. That was a major flaw. (Unless I'm misremembering and there was a decent explanation for that ...? )

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  14. "The Russian guy's power involved electricity or something? How did his M.O. have people thinking "werewolf"?"

    They weren't thinking that about the Russian, the were thinking that about O.Z. Chase. Probably due to his pet.

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  15. Yeah, I think the implication was that Chase + his dog (Cerebus) = werewolf, although I'm a little fuzzy on how the frame-up worked; mind you, not enough to go look at the issue again… 8^)

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