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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #231

"...Dressed for Dinner!"
July 1988

In a Nutshell
Colossus reunites with Illyana and battles Baba Yaga. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Rick Leonardi
Inker: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In Australia, Colossus, troubled by recent dreams of his sister and his difficulty transforming to flesh, has a heart-to-heart with Storm. That evening, as the X-Men do the dishes, Dazzler suggests letting Colossus contact Illyana. Just then, Gateway appears and beckons Colossus. Following, Gateway opens a portal and Colossus emerges in Limbo, just as Illyana is about to cast a necromancy spell to return him to life. Colossus smashes the demon S'ym, then Illyana, believing him to be the shade of her brother, tells him of how the New Mutants have been captured by a demon posing as Baba Yaga. Unable to teleport them through the demon's protective wards, she turned to Colossus, hoping his iron body would make him less vulnerable than Illyana. She then teleports him to Baba Yaga's location in Limbo, a demonic version of the X-Mansion.

 

Colossus finds the captive New Mutants in the kitchen, but is unable to squeeze through the door, his metal form too large. As Baba Yaga prepares to eat her captives, Colossus manages to revert to flesh and enters the room. Transforming back into steel, he easily overpowers the demon due to her weakness to iron. In the aftermath, Illyana bemoans her growing dark side but Colossus points out that her desire to be good is what matters, and that even if she fails, she still keeps trying. Illyana says goodbye as Gateway opens a portal to teleport Colossus home. As Illyana returns home with the New Mutants, the techno-organic S'ym reforms, confidant that though Illyana and Colossus won this battle, his power is growing, and he will ultimately win the war.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue finds Colossus helping Illyana battle Baba Yaga, a witch from Russian mythology who has captured the New Mutants. In a clever bit, Colossus is teleported to Illyana in Limbo by Gateway just as Illyana is about to cast a necromancy spell to return his spirit from the dead, leading her to spend the issue believing Colossus is just a magical representation of her brother and not the real thing. It's built on a giant coincidence, but the coincidence is helped along by the wonky time of Limbo and the involvement of Gateway. As a result, Illyana continues to believe the X-Men are dead, and believing she got away with the casting the necromancy spell and not turning entirely evil as a result, resolves not to try it again. 


The Baba Yaga whom Colossus and Illyana battle isn't the "real" Baba Yaga, but rather a demon from Limbo who escaped to Earth and pulled that form from Illyana's mind. The demon was able to escape because the walls between Limbo and Earth are strained, a further setup for "Inferno".

Illyana's struggle with S'ym for control of Limbo is also referred to as a full scale civil war at this point, and though Illyana believes she's destroyed S'ym this issue, he returns by issue's end.


Rick Leonardi fills in on pencils, and after his fill-in on #228, we can now essentially consider him the book's co-penciler, as he will more often than not be the go-to artist whenever Silvestri needs a break.

The Chronology Corner
The events of this issue take place after New Mutants #66, per an editorial footnote. 

A Work in Progress
Gateway appears in this issue wearing more clothes than his usual loin cloth.
One of the Smiley Face Right soldiers sent to Limbo by Illyana tries to take control in the wake of S'ym's apparent destruction.


Colossus is forced to transform into flesh in the course of this story, only the second time he's done so since his return to the book (and, not coincidentally, both times he did it in order to help his friends and family, literally shedding his tough exterior to help his loved ones).


As with the Adversary, Colossus is able to defeat Baba Yaga due to magic's vulnerability to iron.


Claremontisms
In a neat little detail, Colossus, stuck in his metal form, has become so hot standing out in the Australian sun that his sketch book bursts into flames when he touches it. 


For Sale
There's a house ad in this issue for "The Evolutionary War", the upcoming storyline which unfold in all of Marvel's 1988 annuals. 


Teebore's Take
Amongst the "All New X-Men", Colossus is unique. Whereas for most of his teammates, the X-Men became a defacto family where they had none prior, Colossus comes from a loving home, with parents and siblings. This doesn't make the X-Men any less his family as well, but he has occassionally struggled with homesickness, of the contrast between his new family and old. As a result, he's taking the X-Men's recent exile into legend a bit harder than the others, concerned as he is with his sister's well-being in the wake of his perceived death. This issue, then, is meant to address his concerns while helping Illyana come to terms with the death of her brother.

In theory and execution, this isn't a bad story. It's arguably a necessary one (especially in terms of allowing New Mutants to move forward), and Claremont finds an effective of way having Colossus help Illyana and still preserve the X-Men's ruse, while Leonardi continues his strong work as the book's effective co-penciler. Where it suffers is in the timing. The X-Men came out of "Fall of the Mutants" determined to use their new status quo to strike out with impunity against their enemies. After relative detours in issue #228 and #230, we have another issue where the X-Men don't do that. So while this issue isn't an out-and-out fill-in on the level of #228, and in fact covers a necessary story beat, it's still hard to not wonder when exactly the X-Men are going to get to the fireworks factory already, so to speak. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the New Mutants battle Freedom Force in New Mutants #65, followed by X-Factor #30, in which Infectia sets her sights on Iceman. Next week, the "Evolutionary War" begins in X-Factor Annual #3.

22 comments:

  1. I agree with you that this issue feels a bit like a fill-in even though it really isn't one. I think this would've fit in just fine during the Romita Jr. run, when the stories were mostly all done-in-one vignettes -- but since "Mutant Massacre", the series has become one big ongoing story again, and as a result, this issue feels out of place.

    "There's a house ad in this issue for "The Evolutionary War", the upcoming storyline which unfold in all of Marvel's 1988 annuals."

    I really like "The Evolutionary War". I loved it as a kid and I even bought the Omnibus when Marvel released it a few years ago. Re-reading it recently, I was pleased to find that it holds up pretty well -- unlike "Atlantis Attacks" from a year later, which was mostly dreck when it came out in 1989 and remains just as awful today.

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  2. @Matt: I was pleased to find that it holds up pretty well -- unlike "Atlantis Attacks" from a year later, which was mostly dreck when it came out in 1989 and remains just as awful today.

    Interesting that you say that - I was working ahead on next week's "Evolutionary War" annual and pretty much said the same thing, but I wasn't sure if that was just my recollection or the general consensus. Good to at least know I'm not alone in that thinking (though, truth be told, I don't think I've ever read the entirety of either storyline).

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  3. Gateway's teleportation suffers from a similar problem as Illyana's scrying pools. Sometimes he can teleport the X-Men directly to a person or object but in other stories, he's unable to teleport the X-Men to who or what they're looking for unless they know the exact location. Claremont was never able to consistently explain the limitations.

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  4. I've always liked this story, although I agree that it comes at a very awkward moment for the series. But as far as character-driven, self-contained issues go, this one works as well as any we've seen in quite awhile. It's certainly better than Longshot Saves Christmas or the Dazzler/O.Z. Chase story.

    I still think it sucks that the X-Men (particularly Storm and Wolverine) were never held accountable for the way they abandoned everyone during this period-- leading to disastrous consequences in the case of Illyana and probably a few others. But at least this story makes some attempt to deal with it. It's practically the only time it happens! At the very least, I think Storm deserved a major bitching-out from Kitty, who doesn't usually hold back with such things.

    Rick Leonardi is one of those artists who is pretty great when he's on his game and sucks when he gives into his tendency to give everyone crazy chipmunk cheeks and weird old manface. But this counts as one of his better issues, and in general I think he draws one of the more iconic Illyanas. I love how dramatic and severe he makes her bangs!

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  5. The whole opening sequence with Rogue & Storm talking with Colossus seemed to have a whole lot of sexual innuendo...actually, the whole ordeal that Colossus has to remain "hard steel" instead of "soft flesh" seems sketchy...I know they might mean him to represent how much more "rough & rugged" the X-Men have become, but I can't help but think they, at least for this story, wanted to have some fun with Colossus "always on hard" ...orrr I could just have a gutter brain, either way :P

    Also, Leonardi drew Colossus kinda like someone might draw Clark Kent

    At one point in this issue they say that if they cast aside their death vanity, all their work, their sacrifices, would have been for naught...that ideal didn't last very long did it?

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  6. I agree with most everybody else, that this is just kind of bad timing for this story. It almost feels like an annual or a special more than a monthly issue, since it has long-term consequences, but interrupts the story to focus on Peter and Illyana at the exclusion of the rest of the cast or current storyline. I know picking on Claremont over-writing is an easy target, but that panel of S'ym talking to no one, explaining that that wasn't the "real" Baba Yaga, is textbook over-writing circa 1975. I think it works with Leonardi's cartoon-y style and S'ym's character, but it's still a good "everybody talks too much" moment.

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  7. "I still think it sucks that the X-Men (particularly Storm and Wolverine) were never held accountable for the way they abandoned everyone during this period-- leading to disastrous consequences in the case of Illyana and probably a few others."
    Alan Davis explained in Excalibur that if the X-Men hadn't faked their deaths, Necrom would have destroyed Life, the Universe and Everything. So none of the X-Men probably feel comfortable judging.
    (And to be fair, some of them do have pretty good excuses- Maddie was being chased by people trying to kill her, Longshot was still relatively ignorant of Earth culture, etc.)

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  8. Again for those complaining the placing of the story: my native publisher messed the issue order badly at this phase and we got the starting bit for Genosha, then the Brood, then the rest of Genosha and only then this one right before Inferno. Oh what would I have given to get this at this point!

    The same publisher also gave me in the way if the Evolutionary Wars only the X-Men annual and the ALF tie-in. The ALF books did read "Marvel" on cover but only after this could I accept Melmac being there with the Skrulls and the Krees.

    But on this issue, it's a fun if a bit ewwy scene where Rogue burns her gloves on hot hunky Colossus. Since coming to the Outback the X-Men have been flirting with their darker side and I don't know if it's some sort of conscious thing by Claremont to fan the flames for Inferno or if they rather are on some sort of post-mortal alienation phase after dying and seeing been considered dead by the world. Though in fairness, it may have been going that way since Mutant Massacre, or #200, or #189, or...

    Though their death in Dallas might have been such good PR for the mutantkind that it may be kind of justified to not go "psyke!" on it - and the angst about it. I don't know of anyone ever mentioned this angle.

    Also that damn Gateway and what he was supposed to be haunts me now. No damn way it's by coincidence he snaps Illyana's necromantic spell from air and teleports Colossus in just at the right time.

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  9. Teemu -- I had every issue of Marvel/STAR's ALF comic. Even after I stopped watching the show, I kept reading the comic book. I was disappointed, though not surprised due to licensing deals, that the ALF issue didn't make it into the afore-mentioned EVOLUTIONARY WAR OMNIBUS.

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  10. Matt, you gorgeous SOB! On Melmac young Gordon had his own comic book (?) hero he kept referring to in one of the Melmac stories of his youth, Dr. something. The Finnish translation for the name was the same they had sometimes used for Dr. Doom (different translator of course), I don't know the original English name. Now, please confirm me that it really was Dr Doom in English too and Gordon was a huge Dr Doom fan back in the day. Lie to me if you have to.

    It's a crime that they try to alter the past about the Evolutionary War in such way like it was 2013 or something. It ain't no omnibus without. The High Evolutionary was way cool in those Alf bits, I saw him on any Marvel Proper only later and was disappointed to see he was a human weirdo rather than an Elder if Universe or something as Alf would suggest.

    Everybody google those few pages, it's a hilarious bit. The High Evolutionary tries to pin the destruction of Melmac on someone we all know and unwittingly gets massively ironic in the process.

    "No, it was a different camp, they had to build a railroad bridge." Ha! HA!

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  11. @Anonymous: Sometimes he can teleport the X-Men directly to a person or object but in other stories, he's unable to teleport the X-Men to who or what they're looking for unless they know the exact location. Claremont was never able to consistently explain the limitations.

    True. And frankly, as with much of Gateway, he never really got around to even trying.

    @Ben: At the very least, I think Storm deserved a major bitching-out from Kitty, who doesn't usually hold back with such things.

    Yeah, the separation of Excalibur from the X-Men just before and during the '91 reshuffling never really provided an opportunity for much post-ruse fallout.

    I love how dramatic and severe he makes her bangs!

    Me too!

    @Reese: orrr I could just have a gutter brain, either way :P

    We certainly can't throw stones when it comes to gutter brain. :)

    Also, Leonardi drew Colossus kinda like someone might draw Clark Kent

    Heh, yeah, he kinda does.

    @Dobson: I think it works with Leonardi's cartoon-y style and S'ym's character, but it's still a good "everybody talks too much" moment.

    Yeah, you do have to wonder who, exactly, that dialogue informs if not the reader.

    @Teemu: Though their death in Dallas might have been such good PR for the mutantkind that it may be kind of justified to not go "psyke!" on it - and the angst about it. I don't know of anyone ever mentioned this angle.

    I don't think that is ever mentioned, but it is a really good point.

    @Matt: I was disappointed, ... that the ALF issue didn't make it into the afore-mentioned EVOLUTIONARY WAR OMNIBUS.

    Okay, I straight-up LOVE that their was an Alf "Evolutionary War" tie-in.

    I'd say I'd try to hunt down a copy at my local con in a few weeks just for the fun of it, but I highly doubt anyone there will have any Alf comics...

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  12. I enjoyed this one a lot more than I was expecting. This has to be one of Leonardi's best penciling jobs on the title. I actually don't mind the placement of the issue. If the X-Men are just going to be sitting around, Colossus should be going to visit his sister ASAP!

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  13. "I still think it sucks that the X-Men (particularly Storm and Wolverine) were never held accountable for the way they abandoned everyone during this period"

    Rahne ended up giving Storm quite an earful about it right before the Genoshans attacked during the X-tinction Agenda.

    "The X-Men came out of "Fall of the Mutants" determined to use their new status quo to strike out with impunity against their enemies. After relative detours in issue #228 and #230, we have another issue where the X-Men don't do that. So while this issue isn't an out-and-out fill-in on the level of #228, and in fact covers a necessary story beat, it's still hard to not wonder when exactly the X-Men are going to get to the fireworks factory already, so to speak."

    This will become an unfortunate...problem, of CCs, especially much later. Setting up an interesting idea, but taking forever to either getting around to it and/or not being bothered to follow-up on it all. See Searching for the Diaries and Let's Set Up The XSE. At this point, CC really needed a stronger editor to keep him focused and on track.

    But still. It is a well constructed issue, and bittersweet one too, since it seems like the march towards Inferno is under full swing, even this early in the game.

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  14. "This will become an unfortunate...problem, of CCs, especially much later. Setting up an interesting idea, but taking forever to either getting around to it and/or not being bothered to follow-up on it all. See Searching for the Diaries and Let's Set Up The XSE. At this point, CC really needed a stronger editor to keep him focused and on track."
    To be fair, the problem was Inferno. Claremont was told by Harras that (1) the X-Men couldn't find the Marauders until Inferno and (2) the Marauders couldn't find out the X-Men were alive until Inferno. There's not many ways to do a story where the X-Men look for the Marauders without finding them or the Marauders finding out that they're alive.

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  15. I can't believe you didn't mention Lance Mastodon, Teebore.

    Storm appears to be wearing a leather jacket over no shirt, tucked into a bikini bottom that also looks like leather — topped by a utility belt — in the desert, under a sun hot enough to make Colossus scalding to the touch. Bozhe moi!

    Meanwhile, Alex is dressed in Xavier's old Middle East safari gear again while the rest of the team does the dishes in their uniforms.

    It's hilarious that even in an issue in which she doesn't use her mutant power, so there's no need to catch the casual reader up to speed, Rogue has to remark out loud to Peter on the danger of touching his bare flesh (well, organic steel) with hers.

    The more Leonardi's work resembles Bart Sears' here, the less I like it — I tend to enjoy his art because he does lithe characters very well, where of course this issue is full of exaggerated demons, S'ym, and Colossus — but overall it's still pretty good; Illyana, as folks have noted, looks great.

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  16. // She then teleports him to Baba Yaga's location in Limbo, a demonic version of the X-Mansion. //

    I don't think so. There is a simulacrum of the school in Limbo, observed by Illyana and Peter, whose lack of payoff confused me because it's pretty clear from transition captions that the action happens at a demonically metamorphosing X-Mansion on Earth. Given that Illyana says the Limbo version is a "bare-bones framework" and that they have "to save the kids" before "the replication's finished" I'm guessing there's some kind of mysticky nexus thing happening, but it isn't explained.

    // The Baba Yaga whom Colossus and Illyana battle isn't the "real" Baba Yaga, but rather a demon from Limbo //

    Right. If you want to see the real Baba Yaga, read some Hellboy!

    // it's still hard to not wonder when exactly the X-Men are going to get to the fireworks factory already, so to speak //

    I'm definitely on board now the frustration now, to the point that I kind-of have to assume that the X-Men are fulfilling their new mission between recorded stories. Honestly it would read better if the team had been left to figure out on their own what to do with their status as ghosts, isolated from civilization with a mute, empathetic teleporter at their disposal, rather than Roma telling them and us what their new supposedly proactive position was meant to be. Just for Peter's sake, though, and I guess Illyana's too, I'm happy to have this story. What I'm less thrilled about is that as far as Ororo, Betsy, and Logan are concerned, Kitty, Brian, Doug because they probably don't know about Doug, Mariko, Amiko, et al. can just suck a lemon.

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  17. Blam: Storm appears to be wearing a leather jacket over no shirt, tucked into a bikini bottom that also looks like leather — topped by a utility belt — in the desert, under a sun hot enough to make Colossus scalding to the touch. Bozhe moi!

    Whether Storm has been a bit "yes and then no" with Forge, she's not hot or cold, because her weather powers adjust the climate just around her to fit her all the time. She made several points of that just after when she had lost her powers, remember, hands freezing on a cable, Nightcrawler bringing her a towel after swimming, that sort of things.

    On the proactive mission, I have never been on board with that. That's no stuff for heroes to do, and besides after years of been conditioned to maxim "hunting mutants is bad!" they are now supposed to hunt their enemies of whom most are mutants? Down with that sort of thing!

    I mean, not long ago they did have a member to remind them of that who fell on pieces every time for the merest suggestion that someone oughta be tracked by her powers. Was it for this they snikted her and shoved her into the Body Shoppe?

    "Hunting down our enemies" harks disturbingly of the Dark Ages of the nineties, and Claremont's early open flirting with several of the thematics of the period feels massively bad in the hindsight. It's almost like he should be there with Moore and Miller on the list of creators whose dark themes the lesser writers will try emulating but in all the wrong way.

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  18. Or rather, Claremont sends this bad vibe about him possibly being a very early adopter of the dark Milleresque/Mooresque world view that made the 90's terrible, thought development towards that was of course well in the works prior 1986 and Watchmen/Dark Knight.

    As for the other stuff, Claremont's Uncanny X-Men of this era seems, sadly, to be a harbinger of those things wrong about the nineties, with sexy cyborgs, sexy Asian Ninja Betsy, sexy art by Silvestri and Jim Lee. At least there still was the decency to dress only villains with weapons (Scalphunter) instead of "heroes".

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  19. @Blam- they do know about Doug- Storm found out in issue 230, which makes it odd that Betsy hasn't shown any reaction.

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  20. "To be fair, the problem was Inferno. Claremont was told by Harras that (1) the X-Men couldn't find the Marauders until Inferno and (2) the Marauders couldn't find out the X-Men were alive until Inferno. There's not many ways to do a story where the X-Men look for the Marauders without finding them or the Marauders finding out that they're alive."

    They still could have paid some lip service to it. Like, they're at least thinking about going after them, but still can't find them or whatever. Or at least have them go after the Brood as soon as they arrive. Or at least make comments that they're also looking for Nimrod as well. Just something to justify the new set up and not exactly following through on it. Of course, once the Brood and the Marauders have been defeated, there is also the reason of why the X-men don't just announce they're back again...

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  21. Also noteworthy in this story is Illyana's reference to the Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov's most blatant anti-Communist tractate. How might her brother Colossus have felt about her reading that?

    Also that novel includes a deal being made with Woland/ Satan.

    And then there's the Snow White witch, Grimhilde, in the role of Illyana's grandmother in the prologue. Just what was Claremont intending here with these references?

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  22. It's interesting that not only does Illyana unknowingly cast a "black magick" spell, but is reading the Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov's most anti-Communist tractate (something undoubtedly just as aberrant in her brother's eyes;) The novel itself includes a young woman making a deal with Satan.

    The prologue also contains a scene with Illyana and her supposed grandmother, who is cast in the role of Grimhilde from Snow White.

    So what's Claremont up to with these two blatant literary references (three if you include Baba Yaga).

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