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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #233

"Dawn of Blood"
Early September 1988

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men battle a group of Brood-possessed mutants. 

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

Plot
In Denver, the X-Men are attacked by a group of mutants who have been implanted with Brood eggs by Harry Palmer. Halfway between their human and Brood forms, each possesses a unique mutant ability. As the X-Men battle, they're conflicted about how much force to use against the Brood, considering their human hosts are unwitting victims. During the fight, Rogue, Psylocke and Wolverine are either mentally ensnared or captured. Meanwhile, at the nearby Red Rocks amphitheater, Reverend Conover's ministry is preparing for a large morning service. Elsewhere, Madelyne dreams of having her life with Scott ripped away, her form given to Jean Grey, until she is nothing but an abandoned nothing being. Back in Denver, Havok is forced to use lethal force on a Brood to save Storm's life, and when Colossus emerges from a collapsed warehouse with another dead alien, the losses are enough for Harry to order the Brood to retreat and regroup. When the dead Brood reverts to human form, Havok is horrified, but Storm assures him he's done the man a service, as regardless of his outer form, his life ended the moment he was implanted with an egg. It was Harry Palmer who killed him, she says, and if he and his Brood gang aren't stopped, the Earth is doomed.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the beginning of the title's bi-weekly shipping, a schedule which saw the series publish two issues a months for three months (May, June, July, ie when kids are getting/out of school, because this was still a time when what kids did mattered to comic book sales). Marvel will continue this "summer bi-weekly schedule" with high profile/high selling titles (always including Uncanny) for the next two years, and it stands as a precusor to the current "double shipping" approach, in which certain titles will publish two issues a month, seemingly at random.

This is the first issue of the series fully edited by Bob Harras, who takes control of the main X-Books this month. He will be, notably and somewhat infamously, the last editor with whom Claremont works before leaving the series. 

In the wake of being knocked unconscious last issue, this issue Maddy experiences a downright creepy dream in which her features are, one by one, removed from her and given to Jean, until Jean is whole and Maddy becomes a faceless figure. 


Reverend William Connover and his wife Hannah appear for the first time, setting up a ministry concert at Red Rocks amphitheater. They will factor in the climax of this story, with Hannah appearing again in a two part Brood miniseries during the 90s.


A Work in Progress
As a news reporter films the X-Men's battle with the Brood, it's noted that only the Brood appear on camera, per the X-Men's invisibility to electronic detection.


I Love the 80s
All of the Brood-possessed mutants the X-Men battle this issue have codenames.


Once again, a fantastic X-Men battle is chalked up to Lucasfilm.


One of the Brood references Top Gun.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops Havok
Havok worries that hitting a normal human with his plasma beam will kill them. 


Later, he's forced to kill one of the Brood to save Storm. 


After the Brood he kills reverts to human, Havok bemoans that this what he feared since his power first manifested, killing someone with it. 


Human/Mutant Relations
Reverend Connover, taking a different tack on mutants than Reverend Stryker, considers mutants to be like humanity's children.


For Sale
The back cover features an ad for Metal Gear. For whatever reason, I was always fascinated by the list of paraphernalia and would often select the items I'd want to have my character in the game use (without ever actually playing the game). 


Bullpen Bulletins
Picking up where last issue's left off, Bullpen Bulletins introduces a new batch of Marvel editors, and announces the whole bi-weekly shipping thing. 


Teebore's Take
This issue, Claremont and Silvestri set aside the creepy horror atmosphere of the last issue for a more straightforward superhero action story. This is heightened by the fact that in a dubious move, each of the mutant Brood are given a codename to go along with their enhanced abilities. While the idea of having the X-Men battle Brood who have taken over mutants is a logical evolution of the Brood/X-Men conflict, giving the Brood super-villain names reads too much like kowtowing to the genre conventions of the time, edging the story too far out of the atmosphere so successfully established last issue.

Meanwhile, this issue also establishes the driving conflict of this arc: how much force is too much force to use when dealing with the Brood-possessed mutants? Claremont wisely centers the "kill or not kill?" debate around Havok, one of the present day X-Men who haven't encountered the Brood before and thus, hasn't experienced first hand just what their possession is like. It should also be noted that this is a debate being carried out in the midst of battle, as the X-Men are fighting the Brood, and not a case of them deciding what to do with vanquished foes (as with the Reavers), keeping the Siege Perilous option off the board. The question of whether the X-Men should kill this batch of Brood is, along with the atmosphere, the notable element of this storyarc, so even while the latter is diminished somewhat here, at least the former is put into play.   

Next Issue
New Mutants #67 sends Sam to another Lila Cheney concert, while X-Factor #32 features Avengers (of sorts) and Uncanny X-Men #234 wraps up "Earthfall".

14 comments:

  1. Yeah, about codenames... it's 1988 and CBS is showing High Mountain Rangers, a show about search and rescue / law enforcement team at the Rockies, where the heroes have snowmobiles and codenames. The African-American in the team is approvably "Black Magic" and hilariously there is also a "Flying Tiger". The show was cancelled after six episodes and a total of twelve was made, but I can still hear the theme song in my head.

    I, too, love the 80's.

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  2. Also re: codenames (but not nearly as awesome):

    One of the most valid criticisms I can make of latter-day Claremont (as in post-Paul Smith) is his tendencies to throw a bunch of codenames and powers out there with little in the way of personality to disntinguish each codename's bearer. I think it started with the Marauders. How is Harpoon different than Riptide or Arclight? Powers (not always well-defined; see Scalphunter) and visuals, maybe ethnic background with prerequisite outrageous accent? They're all nasty, all speak similarly, and are mostly interchangable.

    The Marauders at least look different than each other. The Reavers have a cool overall design but are even more similar. Then there's his awful late '90s/2000s creations like the Neo. At least the Marauders & Reavers are memorable groups!

    Without Cockrum, Byrne, or Smith to carry him and provide visual flair and good designs, most of Claremont's post-Smith villains are pretty indistinct. Exceptions are there, including Mr. Sinister (still not his strongest creation) but Selene, Nimrod, the Super-Brood, and Naze are weak characters.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  3. I acknowledge but oppose your criticism, Mike (Riders of the Storm excluded).

    First of course because it is a genre convention in a form of genre entertainment that's perhaps the purest form of genre entertainment save slasher films.

    Marauders particularly are a sort of mirror X-Men as they are an ethnically diverse group of mutants, but unlike the X-Men they have a one-dimensional mercenary ethos which they fulfill very effectively and they are kept distant and alien to us. Quite probably they have their inner world inside the team and inside their heads - they still are Claremont characters - but we are not invited in to see it in the form of thought blurbs. In a world where Mystique and the Hellfire Club are currently recovering of villainy, they were a good call at this point.

    The first set of Reavers were nothing but instructional Siege Perilous fodder except for the three that got away and had their distinct voice, I feel, at us first meeting them. The Hellfire Commandos too are individuals, Macon for example is an annoying movie buff.

    The Brood here... why indeed they have codenames? Perhaps they were fantasizing of a career in superheroics when they still were humans and had cooked the names up - their names are very powers-appropriate - but didn't have the X-Mansion phone number, and anyway legal career was more profitable for one the fire-breathing one, but their mental residue got to live their fantasies up, sort of, when they were Brooded. I would accept even if it was only to emphasize the ethnic dilemma of the X-Men killing possibly-humans which there would not be if they all were your generic sleazoids.

    I find the Genosha Press Gang much more suspicious than these other examples, but we'll return to that in two or so weeks.

    Also, I love Nimrod, Selene, Naze and JRjr. I mean, the goddamn robot moves in with the Rodriguezes! The energy vampire dances into the Hellfire Club and sits on Shaw's seat like she owned it! The shaman... runs down stairs and gets eaten by Dire Wraith, ok, but how is that worse than bunch of Shi'ars with joke names?

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  4. @Mike - Reading this issue I immediately flashed back to those Neo issues of Claremont's X-Men return. Who could forget such classics like Cudgel, Big Casino and Manacle? (Full disclosure, I had to look up a 3rd name) It's even more pronounced because instead of just putting a little narration box with their names in it we get pages of clunky dialogue like "My name's TEMPTRESS, and I'm going to use my pheromone powers!" Also, the fight features a tone of mind control. This is honestly the first issue where Claremont's tics really stood out and didn't work for me.

    Also, Wolverine puts up way to much of a fight against Psylocke and Rogue. That should have been game over for him after a minute or two.

    All that said, that dream sequence is fantastically creepy, Claremont turns Reverend Conover into a compelling character in two pages and the Havok stuff is pretty compelling. So you definitely get your good in there with your not quite so good.

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  5. It's only appropriate that the Brood act like comic book villains anyway, considering how the X-Men were emulating horror movie antagonists in the previous issue. It almost feels like it's possible it's a FU akin Wolverine's ten demerits towards the editorial who might have said after #232: "Chris, you're a comic book writer, not a horror movie scripter. I wan't codenames, superpowers and cheesy dialogue announcing both."

    It's also possible it's straight Claremont, too. I'll buy it, and back then I was a subscriber. :)

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  6. The Brood with codenames doesn't really bother me. It's just dumb fun. And unlike the wretched, the Brood here are created to be a bunch of disposable opponents who will be dead by next. Oops, forgot to say "SPOILER ALERT!!!" ;)

    Though it is nice to see some quite a few Clamremontisms (some new, some already used) all show up in this issue. Mind-control? Check. X-men on opposing sides? Check. Hentai tentacle fetish? Check.

    The whole "Is killing ok?" issue could have also had some scenes with Longshot. It may have been redundant, but both Havok and Longshot could have easily been part of the debate.

    I loved Selene. She was fabulously dangerous & bitchy, which always makes for a fun villain. Nimrod was just dangerous. And granted, Naze, or more accurately, the Adversary, was more of a plot device than villian, but still decent.

    As for the Marauders, CC gave enough of them certain character traits for them to be an interesting group. Riptide sadistically enjoyed what he did, Scrambler was a snotty arrogant punk, Scalphunter was a calm, cool, professional, etc. They weren't as interchangeable as you make them out to be, both in terms of powers or personalities.

    The Reavers as well. Cole/Macon/Reese were interchangeable, in terms of looks and powers, but Pierce, Lady Deathsrtrike, Pretty Boy, and the rest all differed visually, had different powers, even if the latter 3 I listed were the only ones to display any sort of differentiating personality.

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  7. Okay, back from my honeymoon and ready to comment again...

    It actaully never occurred to me until this very moment that the Brood mutants having codenames might be odd. I just always accepted it because, well -- they're super-villains. Why wouldn't they have codenames??

    Also, I agree with Mike on the indistinct Claremont villain teams starting in the mid-eighties. I love the Marauders, but even to this day, they're almost all pretty much ciphers to me. Likewise for the Reavers.

    How well I remember the summers of double-shipping. Though they mostly happened before I became a regular comic book reader. As I recall, it was usually UNCANNY X-MEN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, G.I. JOE, and, for some reason, CAPTAIN AMERICA. The first three were among Marvel's top sellers. The fourth, I can only imagine, got double-shipping status because it was written by Marvel's Executive Editor at the time (and I say this as a huge fan of Gruenwald's work -- but I can't imagine his CAP sold strongly enough to warrant a double-shipping summer schedule!)

    I need to re-read the DAY OF WRATH limited series. I don't think I appreciated it at the time, but I generally enjoy John Ostrander, and it has Brian Hitch artwork from back when he was a good artist. Plus it's nineties X-Men, so what's not to love?

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  8. Them Marauders... there really was only Vertigo and Harpoon who were the silent ones, and yet in battle they were madly efficient. Some would say that's a betterment for your ordinary touchy-feely Claremont. There was of course boring Blockbuster and Prism too but did Claremont initially have anything to do with them as they weren't on the X-Men issue(s) of Mutant Massacre?

    There was also certain someone called Sabretooth. A pre-existing character, yes, but, really. Your own limited series have to count for something even if it was in the 90's.

    My personal fave is Arclight, though. You can't read of the joyous excitement when she learns it's the X-Men they're fighting and not Morlocks and then come tell me there's no characterization.

    Also, apparently I can't read word 'honeymoon' and not think of people falling through thatch roofs in jeans shorts (jeans shorts, not Jean's shorts, let us be clear). Hopefully no one was hijacked to battle on a distant planet for a vague prize, Matt?

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  9. I loved this arc, but it's one of those issues which I think hurts Psylocke in the long run and helping fans not connect to her at all. I think Claremont truly dropped the ball when it came to Betsy many many times over. This issue helps with that.
    One of the things he did well was establish Psylockes spirit and will to engage and prove herself. But once he added Havok and Dazzler, he kinda forgot about Betsy. She brought alot when she came across the pond, and he failed to involve her in much of those villains affairs.

    What he tended to do was constantly subject her to being dominated mentally. Even now it's a well known weakness she has.
    Storm has an iron will and can fight off the pheromones with a lil effort. Psylocke gets taken in one panel, and within a couple more panels takes on Wolverine, tries to dominate him, fails and gets knocked out until the end of the issue, where she's pulling him.
    He did that to her alot, she never got the chance to truly be interesting to many people. She'd appear and either get dominated, or knocked out, then show up end of issue and be background fluff. He gave her great armour, intimidating, and shady, then gives us her best arc just before she turns Eurasian.

    Luckily there's another universe where things didn't go that way.
    He did the same thing to Longshot.

    le sigh.

    I used to wonder if her downfall began in Uncanny 225 where she nearly beat Freedom Force all by herself. Somebody at Marvel was probably like, yeah she can't do that again.

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  10. @Teemu, @wwk5d

    I get where you're coming from. Your points about genre conventions and Claremont choosing not to show inner lives makes sense. It seems you like the mid-'80s X-villains more than me; cool! I like Maggott, so my taste is automatically suspect.

    A couple quick points: To me, the Shi'Ar Imperial Guard represented a force to be overcome rather than true villains. They are the Army of Thugs that delay our heroes, but not the cause of their woes (Dark Phoenix and Lilandra are). Plus, their designs are better, even if based on the Legion, because '70s Dave Cockrum could design characters like nobodys business.

    Although working for Sinister, the Marauders committed the Mutant Massacre. They actively murdered Morlocks.They are clearly despicable villains. I can't say that they are memorable individuals, though.

    Unlike the colorful Imperial Guard, they almost all look darkly-attired (with some odd '80s-isms like shirts with one shoulder) with unruly hair. Vertigo and Sabretooth really stand out (and Claremont & Byrne created sabretooth, while, iirc, Vertigo was a Savage Land mutate designed by Neal Adams). I like villains, even in large groups, to be more distinct and at least a little better-defined.

    I'm thinking of Cobra. I haven't watched GI Joe since I was a kid but I remember the basic personalities of Destro, Crimson Twins, Zartan, and Stormshadow. Wwk5d, you make a good point that there were some differences between the Marauders, but I can't remember which one was bratty vs. professional vs. sadistic despite rereading the Mutant Massacre more than once.

    Anyway,I like how everyone who comments here makes valid points in positive ways, so thanks for engaging my points reasonably and entertainingly.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  11. Mike: It seems you like the mid-'80s X-villains more than me; cool!

    Like, massively love... there are verbs.

    A couple quick points: To me, the Shi'Ar Imperial Guard represented a force to be overcome rather than true villains. [-snip-] Plus, their designs are better, even if based on the Legion, because '70s Dave Cockrum could design characters like nobodys business.

    I was thinking more about those generic featherheads with names like Captain K'rk, but your point of course stands. Though the Imperial Guard show little in way of individual characterization, less so than the Marauders. They are antagonist underlings to be engaged in battle and, methinks, as such shouldn't be held to different standard than Marauders.

    Interesting "small" characters are the salt of the Earth(-616), however non-massive role they play. Moira MacTaggart isn't the most important piece on the chessboard but damn if she doesn't steal the show every time.

    Unlike the colorful Imperial Guard, [Marauders] almost all look darkly-attired (with some odd '80s-isms like shirts with one shoulder) with unruly hair.

    JRjr. vs. Cockrum on the subject of character design... :D The Imperial Guard of course are the good guys in their own environment, so there's that too.

    Anyway,I like how everyone who comments here makes valid points in positive ways, so thanks for engaging my points reasonably and entertainingly.

    Well, we are all humans here, they make us verify it every time. ;) Seriously, that is an awfully nice thing here.

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  12. Teemu -- no, I wasn't transported to Battleworld. Nor to the far-flung future to raise my timelost son.

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  13. "These people -- all have powers! Palmer -- the prime carrier -- must have deliberately chosen mutants to infect as subordinate hosts!" — Storm, Pg. 4

    "They're mutants, just like you! Why else d'you think Harry Palmer chose them to be the Brood's vanguard on Earth!" — Brood (Harry Palmer Brood, I think), Pg. 2

    So... Way to pay attention, Storm.

    // Maddy experiences a downright creepy dream in which her features are, one by one, removed from her and given to Jean, until Jean is whole and Maddy becomes a faceless figure. //

    I was really impressed by how awesomely freaky that was.

    // All of the Brood-possessed mutants the X-Men battle this issue have codenames. //

    For what it's worth, I took the codenames to be ones that the mutants had given themselves before the Brood hit. Which of course means that Cerebro must totally suck as these mutants — with obvious practice in using their powers — have presumably never been detected; not only is Divebomber at least as fast as Storm and strong enough to rip an engine right off a passenger jet in flight, Brickbat goes toe-to-toe with Colossus, so they had to have made an impression somewhere before now.

    A couple more for I Love the '80s:

    "You ain't no Michael Jackson, Jethro! Quit that moonwalkin' boogaloo, boy, an' lend a hand." — foreman or head grip or whoever, at the Red Rocks amphitheatre, Pg. 13

    "Geez, I thought Beirut was hairy." — cameraman, to mobile news van, Pg. 15

    // Once again, a fantastic X-Men battle is chalked up to Lucasfilm. //

    When he clearly should've been reminded of Aliens.

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  14. "For what it's worth, I took the codenames to be ones that the mutants had given themselves before the Brood hit. Which of course means that Cerebro must totally suck as these mutants — with obvious practice in using their powers — have presumably never been detected; not only is Divebomber at least as fast as Storm and strong enough to rip an engine right off a passenger jet in flight, Brickbat goes toe-to-toe with Colossus, so they had to have made an impression somewhere before now."
    Cerebro was damaged by Sabretooth in Uncanny 213 and presumably hasn't been fully repaired. Even assuming it's only five months Marvel time, that's enough time for the mutants to get practice in using their powers.

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