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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #237

"Who's Human?"
Early November 1988

In a Nutshell 
Rogue and Wolverine evade Genoshan pursuit. 

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

Plot
As the Genoshans tracks down Wolverine and Rogue's decoy vehicle over the Indian Ocean, discovering it empty, the escaped X-Men enter a bar frequented by Magistrates in order to procure new IDs in order to lay as false a trail as possible. A drunken Phillip Moreau is in the bar as well, and starts a fight that Wolverine escalates, using the commotion to pick Magistrate pockets. Phillip, however, gets knocked unconscious and the Magistrates, angry at the way his father has been harraguing their chief of late, decide to put him on the "mutie train". Overhearing this, Wolverine and Rogue follow, chalking it up to curiousity and a hunch, and they end up sneaking aboard the train. At the Citadel, the Genegineer meets with Jenny Ransome, explaining how her father switched her records and that she will soon undergo the mutate process. He then checks in on Madelyne, who is undergoing a psychic examination prior to that same process.


Just then, the rest of X-Men arrive on the island, running afoul of a group of Magistrates, whom they easily defeat. Just then, Psylocke is felled by a psychic attack, triggered by Madelyne, which destroyed the Genegineer's lab, killing everyone inside. Elsewhere, Wolverine and Rogue enter the speeding train to discover it filled with mutants. The mutants are less than friendly to what they believe to be two Magistrates in their midst, but Wolverine and Rogue are able to locate Phillip just as the train is stopped and boarded by Magistrates. Pointing out the unconscious Phillip, Wolverine and Rogue are given leave to return him to his father. Getting into a jeep, they drive away, with an enraged Wolverine vowing to take down the country.

Firsts and Other Notables
When a Genoshan telepath tries to read Madelyne's mind, she unleashes a psionic attack that destroys the Genegineer's lab, a further hint at the powers she'll soon develop and her true origins that will be revealed in "Inferno". And though that story will ultimately reveal that Madelyne is technically a mutant, at this point it's reasonable to assume that, with the Genoshans unable to scan her and confirm that she's a mutant, that very inability is enough to convince them she's a mutant. 


The Genegineer notes that Wolverine's blood sample shows a lower-than-usual red blood count, which would ordinarily kill someone, which is the first indication we've been given that Wolverine's healing factor is constantly working to heal him from the presence of the adamantium on his bones, an idea that will be explored more deeply in the future.


It's Leonardi's turn on pencils again, and while I appreciate his art more now than I did as a kid reading this story, if neither he nor Silvestri could do the entire arc, I think I would've prefer they split the story in half down the middle, rather than alternating issues. 

A Work in Progress
This issue establishes that Genosha is located on the east side of Africa in the Indian Ocean, north of the Seychelles.

We learn the X-Men's invisibility to electronic detection extends even to their blood, as the Genoshans are unable to test Rogue and Wolverine's blood samples with their equipment. The computer virus eradicating every mention of the X-Men is also mentioned again. .


What is effectively a Genoshan propaganda piece suggests what the general public (and the rest of the world) believes about Genosha.


Carol-as-Rogue pulls that old trick of dressing provocatively so that everyone remembers her, but they won't remember her face. 


The Genegineer's first name is given as David, and Jenny Ransome refers to him as "Uncle David" when she meets with him, indicating just how close the Ransome and Moreau families are.


It's established that the Genoshan economy runs off a "few hundred" mutate slaves, which seems relatively consistent with the general ratio of humans-to-mutants respective to Genosha's population.


The colored clothing the mutates wear is revealed to be a "skin suit" that is permanently affixed to each mutant during the mutate transformation. It becomes like a skin to them, identifying them as a mutate and also processing their waste.


Claremontisms
Dazzler is Lightengale again. She also uses her dazzle technique again, the first time in a long time.


The Best There is at What He Does
We're reminded that Wolverine's healing factor usually closes the wounds caused by the extension of his claws. 


For Sale
This issue contains one of the first ads for the Columbia House record club we've seen, even featuring the opportunity to purchase some of those new-fangled compact discs the kids are all the rage about!


Teebore's Take
In terms of the plot, this issue moves the story along rather incrementally: the X-Men arrive on Genosha (considering they can teleport anywhere instantaneously, this is not a big deal) and fight some Magistrates, Madelyne blows up the Genegineer's lab, while Wolverine and Rogue fall in with Phillip Moreau (but aren't really any closer to getting off the island than they were at the end of last issue). But this issue really does a fantastic (and arguably more important) job of illustrating just how awful a place Genosha is for mutants.

Jenny's conversation with the Genegineer, as she refers to him as "Uncle David" while wearing one of the mutate skin suits, is heartbreaking, especially as the Genegineer transitions from kind and understanding to spouting political rhetoric about how tough a place Genosha is to live and the need to keep mutants down to protect the status quo. Then there's the Mutant Train, with the obvious allusions to the Holocaust. But most frightening are the scenes where Magistrates casually threaten or assault mutates, and the mutates simply apologize and promise to do better. We learn that the Genegineer not only modifies the mutates' bodies, but their minds as well. The Genoshans haven't just enslaved mutants physically, they've enslaved their thoughts as well, taken away their ability to even fathom a better life. It's a horrifying notion, and while this issue may not be the most important to the arc plot-wise, it's an important contribution to the powerful metaphor at the heart of the story.

Next Issue
More shenanigans in New Mutants #69, followed by the return of Death in X-Factor #34. Next week, the Genosha arc comes to a close in Uncanny X-Men #238.

14 comments:

  1. Is that supposed to be the news-lady from Dark Knight Returns?

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  2. Man, I'm glad Sepinwall isn't writing these. "A review of this issue coming up just as soon as I've finished decanting some babies right down the hall..."

    I don't know if Leonardi turned in unusually light pencils or what other explanation there is for Austin's sketchy inks, but I'm not so fond of their work here. That aside, I definitely agree that the volley back and forth suffers from lack of consistent style. The Genegineer looks nothing like he did last issue, although it's entirely possible that Silvestri and Leonardi were drawing simultaneously — without (enough) common reference — given the publishing schedule.

    // What is effectively a Genoshan propaganda piece //

    ... is delivered by a spot-on Frank Miller Dark Knight newscaster, as Spithead notes. One for I Love the '80s, perhaps, along with the Bullpen Bulletins page congratulating DC Comics on Superman's 50th anniversary.

    That panel you show has The Genegineer reminding Jennifer, "Ours is a nation of ten million...". If I've done the math right that means — taking "a few hundred" to strictly mean 300 — an incidence rate of 1 mutant per 3,333 persons in the general populace, or, given the roughly 5 billion people on Earth at the time, 1.5 million mutants worldwide. Even without the extrapolation, I think that hundreds of new mutants in Genosha alone etches in stone the growing — and rarely if ever commented-upon within the series itself — shift away from at least an implicit lower rate of mutants early in X-Men's paradigm of mutants in the Marvel Universe.

    Somehow, I'd completely missed that Madelyne was the woman on the table in that skinsuit scene as well as that the last panel on that page was her unleashing a telepathic hissy fit responsible for the feedback experienced by Elizabeth and the carnage revealed in the Genoshans' psionic center. I assumed that what I now know was Madelyne's exam was just exposition delivered via prepping some anonymous new mutant and that it was Psylocke's attempt to scramble the Magistrates' memories, unaware of the psionic defenses in place, that knocked her down and blew the minds of the mutants in the psionic center. It might've helped for Claremont to use Madelyne's name somewhere and to devote more than one small panel her little mysterious mental outburst. I figured that next issue we were in for a major guilt trip on Elizabeth's part upon discovering the bloody room, with the rest of the team reassuring her that it was the fault of the Genoshans who'd set up the psionic center and there was no way she could've known.

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  3. Blam, they were pretty open it was Maddie in the table. They were having trouble with the invisible-to-computers thing with her and if I remember correctly bringing the telepath to the process was a spit and chicken wire solution to deal with it. Also, Betsy of this era having a guilt trip? She was suggesting killing Havok when he came to find the X-Men!

    Also, the news lady seems to be a walking X-amination fodder, "Claremontism", "judging them by deeds", because in Genosha they, apparently, judge people by deeds.

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  4. @Teemu: // they were pretty open it was Maddie in the table //

    I'm not saying that it was supposed to be a mystery. And I cop to being exhausted while reading it yesterday. I had just read the previous issue the week before, however, and even with the little forelock of red hair being a red flag — I made a mental note that if I didn't know better, I'd think this was Rachel — she was all skinsuited up head to toe, so there was no continuity of look from Madelyne since the last issue, and nowhere did the dialogue or captions mention her by name.

    This is my first read-through ever of pretty nearly everything since #205, excepting Inferno which I read once back when it was published, so I don't have any hindsight on whether it becomes obvious next issue that this was Maddie.

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  5. "This issue establishes that Genosha is located on the east side of Africa in the Indian Ocean, north of the Seychelles."

    So not only do they treat their mutants like shit, they're colonialists as well! Double bastards. Unless of course they establish Genosha was empty before the white folk arrived.

    "Carol-as-Rogue pulls that old trick of dressing provocatively so that everyone remembers her, but they won't remember her face."

    Hopefully all the women they will run into will either be lesbians or straight catty fashionistas. Of course, if you want to blend in, a skunk hairstyle isn't the best way to go...

    "It's established that the Genoshan economy runs off a "few hundred" mutate slaves, which seems relatively consistent with the general ratio of humans-to-mutants respective to Genosha's population."

    True...but still, how much mining do they get out of those mutants? And I always wondered what else they used the mutants for, besides mining (my fanwank is that they have or had a few mutants like Forge).

    "Dazzler is Lightengale again."

    We're reaching the point where CC's verbal tics start to take over and everyone starts sounding the same. I mean, one of the Genoshans used the phrase "Don't fret, though". Of course he would.

    "We're reminded that Wolverine's healing factor usually closes the wounds caused by the extension of his claws."

    In hindsight, shouldn't he have bloody hands each and every time he extended or retracted his claws back then? If his healing factor healed his hands instantaneously, then it should've done the same for much of the other wounds he recieved...

    "This issue contains one of the first ads for the Columbia House record club we've seen, even featuring the opportunity to purchase some of those new-fangled compact discs the kids are all the rage about!"

    I remember those from college, using a different fake name each time but the same mailing address for the free initial offer and then ignoring all the "You need to purchase" now letters...

    Good issue overall, but while I appreciate the Genoshan story overall, important metaphors and allegory and whatnot, it's never been one my favorites.

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  6. Blam -- "I don't know if Leonardi turned in unusually light pencils or what other explanation there is for Austin's sketchy inks, but I'm not so fond of their work here."

    Personally, I feel that all of Austin's inks past 1980ish have that sketchiness about them. I really think he deliberately changed his style around that time, and not for the better. Look at any of his team-ups with Byrne or Marshall Rogers, to name two of his more popular pairings, post '80 or '81 or so, and they look much worse and far less polished than the work those teams did together previously.

    wwk5d -- "We're reaching the point where CC's verbal tics start to take over and everyone starts sounding the same."

    I totally agree with this, and it's one of my bigger problems with the X-Men comics of this era -- that, and the fact that his overwriting gets worse and worse over the next few years.

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  7. @Spithead: Is that supposed to be the news-lady from Dark Knight Returns?

    Huh. Now that you mention it, it certainly seems like it. Never noticed that before, but she did seem familiar.

    @Blam: I think that hundreds of new mutants in Genosha alone etches in stone the growing — and rarely if ever commented-upon within the series itself — shift away from at least an implicit lower rate of mutants early in X-Men's paradigm of mutants in the Marvel Universe.

    Yeah, Genosha itself certainly contributes to that feeling, as well (as we've discussed) as the growing ant-mutant sentiment in recent years. We're definitely at a point where mutants are more than the hushed few of the 60s and 70s.

    It might've helped for Claremont to use Madelyne's name somewhere and to devote more than one small panel her little mysterious mental outburst.

    It's definitely unclear - I only recalled that was Madelyne because of having read this issue (and summaries of it) a few times over the years. Something as simple as the Genegineer using her name would have been nice.

    @wwk5d:Unless of course they establish Genosha was empty before the white folk arrived.

    That's the impression I got - that Genosha was just this desolate, rocky island until white folk showed up and "tamed" it.

    And I always wondered what else they used the mutants for, besides mining

    Healers, presumably (for the upper classes, most likely), since its said that Jenny's "kids" will have that ability. We see a mutant garbage man and one powering the train this issue. And a gardener last issue. I've always gotten the impression that Genosha pretty much has mutants doing all the blue collar or thankless jobs on the island.

    In hindsight, shouldn't he have bloody hands each and every time he extended or retracted his claws back then?

    Probably, yeah, though theoretically, his gloves obscured. So just the times we saw him popping barehanded. :)

    @Matt: I totally agree with this, and it's one of my bigger problems with the X-Men comics of this era -- that, and the fact that his overwriting gets worse and worse over the next few years.

    I agree that his tics get worse in the upcoming years (though I still maintain - based on no solid evidence at all - that he did that intentionally in response to Harras insisting he write more traditionally "every issue is somebody's first"), but I don't remember the overwriting being a lot of different than it is at this point.

    If anything, I associate Claremont at his most over-writing-est with some of the later Byrne era stuff, like "Demon". But I'll have to keep my eye out for that.

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  8. "though I still maintain - based on no solid evidence at all - that he did that intentionally in response to Harras insisting he write more traditionally "every issue is somebody's first""

    Yeah, but he could have still done that while still giving everyone a unique voice like he used to...and not having everyone using the same or similar phrases. Don't fret though, a body can get used to all those terms even if it does tend to annoy you, body and soul...I mean, I hope - I pray - it would.

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  9. We see a mutant garbage man and one powering the train this issue. That guy strapped to the front of the train is pretty horrific. So is all the stuff about the suits being bonded onto the mutants skin.

    I loved the "news" report about the history of Genosha. So much information and detail packed into four panels. Claremont is really good at selling settings.

    Was it just me or was Chief Anderson drawn pretty far off-model this issue?

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  10. Ssshh... don't tell anyone, but Terry Austin isn't the great inker we thought he was. He did a good job on Byrne, Rogers, Art Adams, and a few others but that's about it.

    Just like Claremont came up with hoards or bad guys with little or no personality and gave every character a different accent, verbal tics are a consequence of being prolific and successful without having to expand his skills. See: nearly every Bronze Age and later comic book creator, from Claremont to Liefeld. I'm sure everyone can think of a ton of exceptions (George Perez kept trying new layouts and action sequences well into the '90s & '00s, Sienkiewicz experimented with computers, Steve Gerber stretched himself with Hard Time, etc.), but all the big-name '70s/'80s creators calcified a bit after they became fan favorites. Byrne, Wolfman, Englehart, Starlin, Rogers, Jim Lee, Neal Adams... very few of them grew beyond a certain point and then started to decline.

    That's not to say everything they did after a certain point sucked. All the people listed above produced good stuff after their peek (even Byrne; Batman & Captain America was surprisingly good and Generations and Next Men have fan bases). If you want to say this era is when Claremont started to lose a step, I won't disagree even though some of his best work is yet to come (the Magneto story in Uncanny X-Men 374 & 375, for example). It'll be interesting to see how much the tics take over in the next few dozen issues.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  11. @wwk5d: Yeah, but he could have still done that while still giving everyone a unique voice like he used to...and not having everyone using the same or similar phrases.

    Oh, totally. I just think of it terms of "I'm going to have everyone use their catch phrase every issue, and explain their powers, because they keep telling me every issue could be somebody's first, so we'll see how they like this...."

    But that doesn't mean all the background/ancillary characters need to sound alike. And, like I said, that's just my pet theory. I highly doubt it's true.

    @Jeff: Claremont is really good at selling settings.

    Honestly, I think the best thing about this arc is that Claremont manages to build a fully-functioning fictional society in the span of four issues that seems real and lived-in. So much of it makes sense given the situation, and you feel like Claremont really thought through all the different ramifications, yet he still manages to present all that and tell an entertaining story.

    @Mike: verbal tics are a consequence of being prolific and successful without having to expand his skills. See: nearly every Bronze Age and later comic book creator, from Claremont to Liefeld.

    Good point. Claremont certainly isn't alone in having verbal tics, pet characters/concepts, etc.

    If you want to say this era is when Claremont started to lose a step, I won't disagree even though some of his best work is yet to come (the Magneto story in Uncanny X-Men 374 & 375, for example). It'll be interesting to see how much the tics take over in the next few dozen issues.

    The post-"Inferno" era is an odd one for me, in that it contains my absolute least favorite Claremont issues, and also some of my absolute favorites. And I'm also curious to look out for the tics, because I've long suspected they're not quite as bad as their reputation. But we'll see.

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  12. @Matt: // I feel that all of Austin's inks past 1980ish have that sketchiness about them. //

    You may be right. Other than DC'sSuperman Adventures, I don't recall much work from him since his heyday(s) with Rogers and Byrne. The former was very slick, but that may have been due to the established art style rather than his own preferences. I will agree that recent Byrne/Austin and Rogers/Austin revisitations have been disappointing, although I chalked that up more to the pencils since I know those fellows' own styles have, to put it charitably, evolved in directions not to my taste since last century.

    @Mike: // Terry Austin isn't the great inker we thought he was. He did a good job on Byrne, Rogers, Art Adams, and a few others but that's about it. //

    I recall liking his work over Leonardi on Cloak and Dagger quite a bit too. How many quality — let alone classic — pairings does he need to be a part of to qualify as a great inker? Perhaps he didn't look good over everybody, and maybe he stopped doing universally acclaimed work when his approach changed or ideal opportunities stopped presenting themselves or whatever, but I think being one-half of at least two artistic tandems firmly ensconced in the pantheon of mainstream American comics is nothing to sneeze at.

    @Mike: // All the people listed above produced good stuff after their [peak] (even Byrne ...) //

    Namor
    was a pleasant surprise — especially after he took over inking his own pencils. Byrne's layouts were really inventive and he used Duoshade board, giving his work a much fuller look than I'd come to expect from him doing soup-to-nuts.

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  13. @Teebore: // I only recalled that was Madelyne because of having read this issue (and summaries of it) a few times over the years. Something as simple as the Genegineer using her name would have been nice. //

    Having gone back and looked at that page several times, I still don't see how — whether one realizes that's Maddie or not — I'm supposed to get that the last couple of panels are anything more than her in agony as the Genoshan telepath turns up the psionic heat. Okay, Maddie threatens him/them, but that could just be bravado, and since we don't know what Maddie really is (revised to be, imminently) even if she has retribution in mind a reader's go-to wouldn't be mental feedback slaughter. Yet this is the last we see of that room before the aftermath, which to me at least also fails to point to Maddie; yes, there's some foreboding in Betsy's voice, but Claremont talks that talk all the time without it necessarily amounting to much.

    Speaking of Claremont, I guess his tics are more prevalent here than before, if only because he's been writing longer. I think he still writes certain characters, both established (in the specific, like Wolverine) and new or transient (like Random Blue-Collar Fella #3) with particular dialects, it's just that he tends to overlay his pet phrases on everybody, regardless of dialect or origin or personality. I do clearly recall when his Star Trek graphic novel Debt of Honor, illustrated by Adam Hughes, came out — back at the tail end of that period where "graphic novel" very specifically meant "tall, slim, squarebound stand-alone thing" — being disappointed that Kirk Spock, McCoy, et al. were, like you'd expect from Hughes, gorgeously on-model and yet everybody just sounded like a Chris Claremont character.

    Which reminds me that I'm not sure I ever shared my Claremont bingo card here — even if I did, I might as well again.

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  14. Oh, there is much more you can add to that bingo game...a body...past time...sum totality...with interest...don't fret...body and soul...

    Forget bingo, it would be a fun drinking game ;)

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