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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #232

"Earthfall"
August 1988

In a Nutshell 
The Brood are back, and on Earth. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editors: Ann Nocenti & Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Not too long ago, Harry Palmer and a group of friend are camping in the Rio Diablo Mountains when they witness a Star Shark crashing to Earth. Investigating the crash, everyone but Harry is killed when Brood emerge from the crashed shark. Harry seemingly escapes unharmed, though he frantically runs Alex Summers and Lorna Dane off the road as he drives away. In the present, Harry is in Denver, working as a paramedic. Responding to a call involving a fire-breathing mutant, Harry unknowingly infects him with a Brood egg. In Australia, Madelyne returns home to find the X-Men away. Suddenly, the computer system displays a clip of Cyclops and Marvel Girl at a press conference. Realizing that her husband left her for the resurrected Jean Grey, Madelyne punches the screen, triggering an explosion that knocks her out.


In Denver, Harry returns to his apartment to find the X-Men waiting for him. Using enhanced abilities he didn't realize he had, he escapes into the night. The X-Men regroup, and Wolverine assures them that the Brood they tracked from New Mexico is Harry. Storm insists they capture Harry alive to learn how many he's infected, saying the presence of the Brood on Earth is a plague that must be stopped. When Rogue tracks down a frightened Harry, the Brood inside takes over again, trying to infect her. But Wolverine intervenes, prepared to kill Harry, just as a pair of cops appear on the scene. Without hesitation, Wolverine tries to kill the cops as well. As the rest of the X-Men arrive, Wolverine declares that the cops are Brood too. Harry, now visibly showing signs of his transformation, agrees, adding that they aren't the only ones, as the X-Men find themselves surrounded by humanoid Brood. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Madelyne spots the resurrected Jean for the first time this issue, as she sees footage of a press conference including her and Cyclops, and realizes why Scott left her and abandoned their son (not that she's doing a whole lot to find him herself at the moment).


Psylocke's body armor/new costume appears for the first time in this issue, and will remain her default look until her transformation into an Asian ninja circa issue #256, with a future story in Wolverine's solo title revealing that he acquired it for her. I've always been fond of this look for the character: it ties in with her desire to be more of a warrior, and it makes sense to give the character with a less overtly-offensive power body armor.


Cyclops and Marvel Girl's appearance is credited as being from X-Factor #29, though the image doesn't line-up exactly with anything from the press conference in that issue. 

Bob Harras shares editorial credit with Ann Nocenti this issue, as he begins the transition in as her replacement, a matter that is discussed in the Bullpen Bulletin this issue.


I kinda feel like the phrase on the cover should be "The Brood are back", not "is". There are more than one of them, after all.  

A Work in Progress
Returning via Gateway, Madelyne notes she'd much rather fly. She's also sporting a new look.


Noting she could return naked and Gateway wouldn't bat an eye, she wonders how the other X-Men would react, and wonders why the idea of freaking out Havok in that way is so intriguing.


Deciding the X-Men need a symbol of sorts (akin to Zorro's "Z") to mark their presence, Madelyne begins designing their star logo.


It's also noted that the Reavers' former computers are so user-friendly, they basically taught her how to use them.

Rogue notes the X-Men have tracked the Brood from New Mexico to Denver, but it's never established what led them to begin the hunt after all this time.

Throughout this issue, posters for a Reverend Connover's ministry appear periodically in the background, setting up his future role in this story. 

I Love the 80s
Harry compares his chances of successfully losing the X-Men to that of the Broncos winning the Super Bowl.


Claremontisms
Harry thinks of mutants via the old "they are to humans as Cro-Magnons were to Neatherthals" analogy.


Artistic Achievements
The transition from frantic past Harry to cool, collected (and Brood-infected) present day Harry is handled in a neat two panel sequence.


For Sale
We have clearly pulled out of the mid 80s crash of the home video game market, as pretty much every issue now contains at least one or two ads for a video game again. This time, we get the classic Double Dragon.


And later, an ad for a Rambo game.


It's in the Mail
Sans editorial responses, this issue's letter col covers issues #222, #223 and Annual #11. A "coming attractions" box previews the other two X-books along with Uncanny for the first time, though it teases X-Factor #31 (which is on sale the same time as this issue) and New Mutants #68 (which is two issues ahead of the contemporaneous issue). 

Teebore's Take
After a series of issues that fell somewhere between "enjoyable diversions" and "pointless filler", Claremont finally follows through on his promise of more proactive X-Men, in the process returning to a plot thread that's been dangling since issue #218 and bringing back the villains which dominated the title from issues #154 to #167: the Brood. Structurally, Claremont wisely begins the story in media res, circling back to issue #218 to tell the story of the Starshark crash and the motorist who ran Havok and Polaris off the road, before seamlessly transitioning to the present day and unfolding the story from the perspective of Harry as he's stalked and confronted by the X-Men.

Not only does this allow Claremont to sidestep the question of why the X-Men waited until this moment to go after the Brood, but it adds to the sense of impending horror that quietly builds throughout the issue, casting the X-Men as unknown Others, while playing with the idea of the X-Men as figures of legend, mysterious beings emerging from the mist and striking with impunity. The end result is an atmospheric, briskly-paced start to a great little three-parter, one that finds the X-Men outside of Australia (barring their jaunt as Santa Claus) for the first time since "Fall of the Mutants", and finally delivering on the promise of the Outback Era's status quo. 

Next Issue
Illyana battles Forge (for real) in New Mutants #66, and Infectia tries to kiss Iceman in X-Factor #31. Next week, the X-Men battle the Brood in Uncanny X-Men #233.

16 comments:

  1. So in the opening scene, I guess the Brood are aware of the old cliche in horror films that the African American characters always die first?

    Also, how'd Rogue get on that bus?

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  2. My local publisher's two-year hiatus midst #224 kept me waiting for the conclusion for #218 too from Aug 1988 to May 1991. Moreover, I didn't get the the Starshark splash page back then because them fitting one and a half original issues into 32 pages meant that occasionally a "less meaningful" page would get cut out.

    So, "Then" I didn't think much anything of the Volkswagen that pushed Alex and Lorna off road. Your random thing, merely. "Now", it was the awesomest thing ever that they would return to that scene with VW and show whence it came from and why it was important. The thing was inadventently embellished a bit by my local publisher Semic, yes, but damn if this isn't just the sort of thing that makes us pee honey over what Claremont did back in the day.

    Also, I highly appreciate how I was again made to wait for this issue an extra week as a sort of simulation for my original read, now that I actually knew of the VW. :)

    About Betsy, I liked her best in her pink fluffy dream outfit. The armor came from nowhere and I was ready wish that's where it should be going, too. She fought Sabretooth in a dressing gown for crying out loud, she don't need no armor! ( in hindsight of course Armor Betsy would have been just fine, compared. also, was she like the only woman in popular culture who sports an armor that actually protects her?)

    And, far be it from me to promote domestic violence, but damn if I just don't love Maddie when she goes physical on Scott's antics. It's not even because it's Scott she punches, but just that she really doesn't take long to go from zero to hundred. It's such a sudden burst, like a fiery bird flashing onto the sky or something, in normal person sort of way.

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  3. Jeff: So in the opening scene, I guess the Brood are aware of the old cliche in horror films that the African American characters always die first?

    There is a good reason why the Brood might be aware of the movie cliches... ;) Also, she was a teacher wanting to be Indiana Jones and she dies in the jaws of a great big shark. And, in two issues a smiling Josie will be there to put a hilarious spin on the cliche of "final girl" who survives the monsters that kill everyone else.

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  4. "Brood" is a collective noun and so is correctly referred to in the singular. You wouldn't say "the herd are" or "the flock are" so you wouldn't say "the Brood are". There's been a noticeable uptick recently in treating collective nouns as plural and it makes me a little batty.

    And ironically, one of my not-a-robot words is "are".

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  5. @Jeff: Also, how'd Rogue get on that bus?

    Horror movie physics. It's the same way Jason moves around.

    @Teemu: Also, I highly appreciate how I was again made to wait for this issue an extra week as a sort of simulation for my original read, now that I actually knew of the VW

    Heh. Happy to oblige :)

    It's not even because it's Scott she punches, but just that she really doesn't take long to go from zero to hundred.

    Yeah, I love that she just loses her shit when she sees that.

    @Anonynmous: You wouldn't say "the herd are" or "the flock are" so you wouldn't say "the Brood are".

    But the problem is that in this case, "brood" is both a common noun (a group of offspring) and a proper noun (the name of a specific alien race). So while you wouldn't say "the herd are...", you *would* say "the sheep are" when referring to multiple sheep.

    Or, to put it another way, wouldn't you write:

    The Kree are back
    The Badoon are back
    The Shi'ar are back

    even though you would write "the herd of Kree is back", etc.?

    And ironically, one of my not-a-robot words is "are".

    Sometimes I swear the machines have already gained sentience, and are just laughing at us.

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  6. One of my favorite stories from the Outback era. I always vastly prefered it to the original Brood saga. Much leaner and faster, and with the threat to Earth, the stakes are higher, with no time for "oh god can we possibly kill these evil bloodsucking monsterous aliens" moralizing. Also, no giant space whales!

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  7. I'm one of the few who never liked this arc. Mostly, I think, because it's the first time the Brood struck me as kind of silly. They're so humanoid in their behavior relative to their appearance that it begins to come off as more comical than scary. (It wasn't until I reread the original Brood saga as an adult that I realized they've always kind of been this way.) Anyway, I realize this is probably just my own thing because I've never heard anyone else mention it.

    And I also really really love this Psylocke costume. I always thought the poufy pastel pajamas were stupid. (One of the very few things I don't like about Alan Davis is his costume design, and her original outfit bears all of his hallmarks.) But I mostly love the armored costume because the cloak makes her look kind of mysterious and even a little sinister, which I think really sets her apart from the rest of the X-Men.

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  8. "(not that she's doing a whole lot to find him herself at the moment)."
    In issue 240, we find out that the X-Men have been using the Reavers' computers to try to track the Marauders since they got to the Reavers' base. So Maddie might have been just finished doing something to find him.

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  9. Teebore: Horror movie physics. It's the same way Jason moves around.

    So we really are pushing for the view that the proactive, alienated (ha!) X-Men are the monsters in this horror film, coming through a mystic portal to extinct a sapient species?

    Jeremy: with no time for "oh god can we possibly kill these evil bloodsucking monsterous aliens" moralizing.

    Oh come on, there's always plenty of time for that, and in this arc too. It's quite not the nineties yet, and the genre convention of the heroes leaving the villains alive so that the writer doesn't have to all the time be coming up with new ones for the ongoing title is still strong.

    Or, at least Havok has, the rest are pretty cool with it. If only they would have some method of dispatching their unrelenting enemies to godly judgement other than killing...

    Please somebody soon write me a strong case about how Claremont totally wasn't the Herald of the 90's and how the nineties writing wasn't straight late- 80's Claremont minus all the good stuff and capability and tics.

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  10. Looked almost like Rogue had a little beaver slip after climbing out of that burning wreck...what happened to those trusty unstable molecules? :P

    This issue contains two of my all-time favorite panels in an X-men comic: The one of Maddie punching (& breaking) the computer monitor, & Wolverine unabashedly murdering a "police officer"...Legen-waitforit-dary!!

    I think that "The Brood is Back" is supposed to be a play on that Elton John song; "The Bitch is Back"

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  11. "Harry Palmer?" No wonder he almost crashed his car. Clearly, he was going blind.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  12. I really like the very first page, which provides a great old-fashioned intro/recap to a good old-fashioned story.

    The splash page's title is a rare poor job from Orz, however, with terrible perspective and wildly inconsistent depth. Quality aside, I'm curious if there was an inclination to recall the Superman logo given the "Look! Up the sky!" dialogue.

    I also like that we start with Harry's POV and feel the X-Men swoop in as enigmatic outsiders, a kind-of narrative remove that sticks even as we get scenes with only them. Not only does it work in terms of the poor random guy's confusion; you're dead on that it also imparts some of that "legend" aura we keep hearing about. Jason wrote nicely on this over at Remarkable — although I disagree with him that we don't get a satisfactory explanation for Betsy's new getup (yet), partly because no further origin for it seems necessary and partly because I just think it's a way better outfit so there's no use in looking a gift horse in the mouth.

    On the other hand, Psylocke's angry pink Lorax-face butterfly icon looks even weirder than usual to me for some reason.

    Maybe Claremont is subverting the horror-movie tropes in knocking off the black woman, black man, and then young white woman first, leaving the white guy, because for him that's actually pretty surprising. Despite the fact that the film didn't come out until a year later, by the way, I'm calling the fella's desertion "When Harry Left Sally... to Die!" Naturally one has to wonder, just since it's Claremont, whether Harry, Sally, Norman, and Fran were named after anyone in particular, although Mike's comment probably trumps any reality.

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  13. The scene with Wolverine backlit by the burning bus and about to kill Harry is pretty awesome. Another great Wolverine moment by Claremont and Silvestri.

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  14. I remember going to the comic shop and picking up this issue in '88. I was actually mad, because i was like who is this armored chick, and where is my Psylocke. Then rereading it I was like who Dang. I fell in love with her instantly back in NM annual #2, and again in 213, then again in 232. The armour made so much sense to me, that Much of my Psylocke art is either the original armour, or my modified updated version.
    As the least physical of the team it suited her, and allowed her to be in a fight without taking serious harm. To me THIS is the Iconic Costume for Psylocke. I really appreciate you posting these. Became a follower of yours because of them.

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  15. Hey wait...! I already kind of explicitly mentioned it but I just realized that Aug/1988 when this issue was cover dated was also exactly when my local publisher put out UXM 218. A fourth wall breaking coincidence!

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  16. "The Brood are back, and on Earth."

    Shouldn't that read "The Brood have been back, for a while now, on Earth, and the X-men are only now getting around to doing something about?" ;)

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