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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #239

"Vanities"
December 1988

In a Nutshell 
Mr. Sinister muses on the X-Men as Madelyne works to find her son. 

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

Plot
In New York, with the heat wave continuing, a demonically-possessed Empire State Building eats a family of tourists. Another day in a another place, Mr. Sinister reflects on the believed-dead X-Men. He is interrupted by Malice, who is angry after discovering she is unable to break her bond with Polaris' body. Mr. Sinister admits he hoped that would be the case, saying he only intends to make her stronger. In Australia, Dazzler performs at a local saloon as Longshot watches. Storm, searching the computers for information on the Reavers, discovers footage of an X-Factor press conference, and realizes Jean Grey is alive. She angrily confronts Wolverine about it, and he admits he suspected as much, but was scared to find out for sure. In the caves beneath the town, Psylocke, Rogue and Colossus train, and Carol Danvers once more takes control of Rogue's body after a particularly nasty psychic attack from Psylocke.


Above, Alex is sunbathing when Madelyne approaches him. The pair discuss their growing feelings for one another, with Madelyne waving aside Alex's objections, and the two retreat to a room together. Elsewhere, Mr. Sinister watches Madelyne's son, who is in a suspended animation pod, saying the boy will ensure his long-term victory. Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Sinister is in turn being watched by N'astirh, who contacts Madelyne. Calling her the Goblin Queen, he tells her the first sparks of the upcoming inferno have begun manifesting, but she insists he hold up his end of their bargain: she wants the Marauders found, so the X-Men can pay them back, but most of all, she wants her son.  

Firsts and Other Notables
After his brief first appearance in issue #221, Mr. Sinister returns, and we learn a little bit more about his motivations (removing the evolutionary dead-ends so that the strong can thrive, not too different from Apocalypse's creed, which is retroactively fitting given the eventual relationship established between the two). We also see more of his headquarters, which looks somewhat different than the Marauders lair we saw in #221 and will shortly be revealed as being beneath the orphanage where Cyclops grew up.


Thirty-eight issues after his birth (not counting all the parallel issues of X-Factor), Cyclops' infant son finally gets a name: Nathan Christopher Charles Summers. It's also revealed that he's been in the possession of Mr. Sinister all this time, which makes sense (given that he sent the Marauders after Madelyne, as seen in issue #215, presumably having them take the baby at that time as well). 


We learn that Malice has become permanently bonded to Polaris, and Mr. Sinister states that while she can continue to possess others, she now has a body to return to, something which was part of his plan all along (though nothing really ever comes of all this).


He also notes that Malice is unique amongst the Marauders; the next few issues will tease the idea that the Marauders are or have been cloned by Mr. Sinister (something that later stories will confirm to be true), and this comment may suggest that Malice is the one original, non-cloned Marauder on the team.  


Storm learns that Jean Grey is alive this issue, after the Reavers' computers pull an image of an X-Factor press conference and she confronts Wolverine, who verifies it.


A Work in Progress
With the city still gripped by a heat wave and more and more inanimate objects acting of their own accord, we see the Empire State Building eat a family of tourists this issue. 


Storm notes that the Reavers' computers curiously contain a lot of info on the X-Men, and wonders where they came from, but nothing really comes from her line of thought.


It's confirmed that smelling Jean's scent within the burnt remains of her sister's firebombed house in issue #215 is what triggered Wolverine's berserker rage, causing him to knock out Storm in that issue.
He also notes that Jean's scent now carries no hint of Phoenix, thought I'm not quite sure how that works. There's no space smell on it?


Between last issue and this one, Rogue has regained control of her body, but Carol takes control again after Psylocke lashes out at Rogue during training. The art also suggests that when Carol is in control, she can touch people without absorbing their powers and abilities, something which furthers the idea that Rogue's inability to do so is mental, and not a physical restriction of her power.


Claremontisms
In something that is not at all bad, the narrative captions describing Dazzler's singing strike me as something very specific to Claremont. 


Artistic Achievements
For me, this has always felt like the issue where Silvestri really cranks up the sexiness in his art. From the splash page of Dazzler kicking in the doors of the saloon to Psylocke peeling off her armor and going for a swim to Madelyne spending most of the issue slinking around in one form-fitting dress after another (and, for the ladies/gay men, Alex sunning himself in a speedo), "Inferno" isn't the only thing cranking up the heat!


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
When Madelyne first appears before Havok in this issue, she emerges from the other side of Dazzler's lights, creating a fiery effect as she does so, then jokes about being a mind-reader.


As the issue closes, Madelyne communicates with N'astirh while wearing a similar dress to the one Phoenix wore entering the Hellfire Club in issue #132. The issue closes on a close-up of her eye, containing the Phoenix firebird effect. 


Young Love
Havok, at least, more or less considers Dazzler and Longshot a couple at this point (they're also riding the bike Dazzler received in issue #230). 


Later, Havok and Madelyne make the beast with two backs for the first time. Alex at least acknowledges the fact that Maddie is his brother's wife, but Madelyne (not entirely without merit) brushes that aside.


For Sale
In addition to the full page "Inferno" ad I posted with the recent "X-aminations in July" post, there's another half page "Inferno" ad in this issue, this one featuring the various facets of Illyana. 


It's in the Mail
The letters page is back, running an extra half page (with the "Inferno" ad on the bottom of the second page), featuring letters commenting on the recent Brood story, with several of them complaining about all the dangling plot threads in the book at the moment (many of which, the responses rightly point out, that will be addressed in the course of "Inferno").  

Teebore's Take
It's a Classic Claremont Quiet issue, this one bridging the gap between the Genosha arc and "Inferno", though it's much more concerned with the latter than the former. To that end, Claremont essentially reintroduces Mr. Sinister, using his musings on the believed-dead X-Men as a framing device to explore various character-based vignettes and further tease Madelyne's role in the upcoming crossover. For some readers (including myself) who came into comics at a time when Mr. Sinister was at the center or on the fringes of nearly every major story, it may seem odd that the character needs a reintroduction, but this is only the second time we've seen the character at this point, and the previous appearance was all of a handful of pages in the beginning of issue #221.

Given how significant the character becomes to the X-narrative as a whole, it's a little mind-boggling to be reminded of that, while at the same time, Claremont is wise to spend some time on him here, as the character will immediately become a central figure not only in "Inferno", but retroactively, in the resolution of one of the book's biggest (albeit unintentional) unresolved mysteries: where did Madelyne Pryor come from, and what is her relationship to Jean Grey?      

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the Spyder story comes to a close in New Mutants #70, and Friday, Cyclops searches for his son in X-Factor #35. Next week, a special Tuesday edition of X-aminations looks at the X-Terminators miniseries.

24 comments:

  1. "We also see more of his headquarters, which looks somewhat different than the Marauders lair we saw in #221"

    Different areas? The one in #221 could be a debriefing room for the Marauders, while this is more of a private office for him (and he does bust Malice for disturbing him while he's reflecting on the X-men.

    "Storm notes that the Reavers' computers curiously contain a lot of info on the X-Men"

    You'd think the fact that it contained a picture of Storm's outfit from the dimension the adversary sent her and Forge to might be freaking her out a bit more, no?

    "He also notes that Jean's scent now carries no hint of Phoenix, thought I'm not quite sure how that works."

    He, he was able to smell adult Kitty's mind in teenage Kitt's body...his senses are SHARP.

    "In something that is not at all bad, the narrative captions describing Dazzler's singing strike me as something very specific to Claremont."

    Good scene, but where is Wolverine grumbling about how Lightengale darn near almost blew their cover by announcin' to th' world that the X-men ain't runnin' with th' angels?

    (You'd think he's advise her to put on a pair of glasses and call herself Peaches or something as a disguise so nobody recognizes her)

    "For me, this has always felt like the issue where Silvestri really cranks up the sexiness in his art."

    For me, it's where he pole vaults from cartoony cheesecake to oversexed T&A.

    "When Madelyne first appears before Havok in this issue"

    Also? she's wearing a blue dress while a certain song is playing...

    "As the issue closes, Madelyne communicates with N'astirh while wearing a similar dress to the one Phoenix wore entering the Hellfire Club in issue #132."

    A nice touch.

    "there's another half page "Inferno" ad in this issue, this one featuring the various facets of Illyana."

    This is probably my favorite of the 3.

    "with several of them complaining about all the dangling plot threads in the book at the moment"

    With more being introduced that issue that CC will never get around to addressing on this run (Carol being able to touch Psylocke, the Reavers computers).

    But still, it's a good start/prologue to Inferno. And while Maddie does get thrown under the bus, she does make a delicious villain.

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  2. That is one epic-length monologue Sinister gives this issue! Personally, I love it. The more over the top he is the better. I really like how for majority of it he's so disappointed by not getting to kill the X-Men and by the time we see he has Nathan it's all "On to my next scheme!" I know we had this discussion back with #221, but Mister Sinister is a top 3 X-Villain for me. And is he really any more ridiculous than, say, Doctor Doom?

    Has Claremont ever said in an interview what the deal was with the Outback computers? I thought he mentioned the Reavers were going to be working for the Shadow King, which would explain all the files on the X-Men, but computers aren't really his style.

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  3. Yikes! So many spelling mistakes. Anyway...

    My bad, the Devil in a Blue Dress bit was from the second time Maddie runs into Alex.

    "Given how significant the character becomes to the X-narrative as a whole, it's a little mind-boggling to be reminded of that, while at the same time, Claremont is wise to spend some time on him here, as the character will immediately become a central figure not only in "Inferno", but retroactively, in the resolution of one of the book's biggest (albeit unintentional) unresolved mysteries: where did Madelyne Pryor come from, and what is her relationship to Jean Grey?"

    Given all the CC reveled about some of his plans for Sinister and Gambit, it would have been interesting to see where he would have gone with all of this had he stayed on the title.

    "I really like how for majority of it he's so disappointed by not getting to kill the X-Men "

    Given how long ago he set his plan in motion, half the X-men featured here weren't even on the team. You'd think he'd want to "test himself" against X-factor and Excaliber, but hey, I guess he only really cares about the flagship team.

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  4. This was the first "modern" issue of X-MEN I ever saw. I believe I've stated before that a friend of mine got heavily into the X-Men around fifth grade and started picking up both CLASSIC X-MEN and UNCANNY. By way of CLASSIC, issue 150 is the first chronological issue I believe I saw, around the same time. Try to imagine my confusion over the gigantic differences between that issue and this one!

    That said, I've always liked this issue. It's one of my favorite soap opera installments from the post "Fall of the Mutants" era. I agree, Teebore, that this is where Silverstri really amps up the sex, which was always hidden just under the surface, in his artwork. I personally don't think that's a bad thing.

    But I still can't stand Claremont's prose descriptions of Dazzler singing. It's well-written, but it does nothing for me.

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  5. In fairness to Silvestri's T&A, Cockrum and especially Byrne seemed to get Storm naked almost every issue when she was basically the only full-time woman on the team. So it's not like this is unprecedented. And I agree with Matt that it doesn't bother me too much.

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  6. Ah...Inferno. I remember reading the entire series to my little sister (save for X-TERMINATORS#2 and X-FACTOR#37 which evaded me), using different voices for the characters.

    Rather dark opening. Is daddy exhibiting usual stressed-parent behavior, or is it the Inferno effect?

    Carol touching Psyclocke. On first reading it, my original impression was Carol going GOTCHA!: Rogue wants to absorb Psylocke to defeat her. Carol takes over, gets Betsy's guard down, and then TOUCH!

    I remember the fan-letters for this issue. One was especially hateful to Scott and Jean, hoping Madelyne gets her baby and goes Restraining Order on the homewrecking pair. Back then (1999 to be exact), I was on Scott and Jean's side on this situation. Now I'm wiser.

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  7. @wwk5d: Different areas? The one in #221 could be a debriefing room for the Marauders, while this is more of a private office for him

    That was my assumption. I pointed it out less as a criticism and more as a "the Marauders base has different rooms" kind of thing.

    he was able to smell adult Kitty's mind in teenage Kitt's body...his senses are SHARP.

    Yeah, I remember that, and I questioned that then too. ;)

    but where is Wolverine grumbling about how Lightengale darn near almost blew their cover by announcin' to th' world that the X-men ain't runnin' with th' angels?

    Heh.

    You'd think he's advise her to put on a pair of glasses and call herself Peaches or something

    Double heh. :)

    This is probably my favorite of the 3.

    Me too. Something about the way the edge of the sword divides the picture really appeals to me.

    And while Maddie does get thrown under the bus, she does make a delicious villain.

    Yeah. I'm sure I'll touch on this in the course of "Inferno", but I'm always torn between the character assassination of Maddy and the fact that she does make for a fun villain in this story, partially because of her legitimately righteous fury at being abandoned by Scott.

    You'd think he'd want to "test himself" against X-factor and Excaliber, but hey, I guess he only really cares about the flagship team.

    Mr. Sinister is all about keeping his branding pure. :)

    @Jeff: That is one epic-length monologue Sinister gives this issue! Personally, I love it.

    I think breaking it up and intermingling it with the character pieces really helps sell it and keep from feeling too monologue-y.

    Has Claremont ever said in an interview what the deal was with the Outback computers?

    I've never encountered anything from him, but Nathan Adler has a few thoughts on the matter.

    @Matt: It's one of my favorite soap opera installments from the post "Fall of the Mutants" era.

    Ditto. I've always had a soft spot for this issue. From Mr. Sinister to all the character bits to its role as an "Inferno" prologue to all the sexy women that so fascinated Teenage Teebore, it was one of those issues that consistently captivated me.

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  8. @angmc43: Is daddy exhibiting usual stressed-parent behavior, or is it the Inferno effect?

    Oh, good question. I've always assumed the former, but it could very well be the latter.

    Back then (1999 to be exact), I was on Scott and Jean's side on this situation. Now I'm wiser.

    Yeah, when I first started reading comics, I was a huge Scott/Jean shipper, and didn't really know much about Madelyne. So the first time through all this material, I read it much more as Madelyne standing in the way of the X-Men's One True Pairing.

    Since then, it's become much more a case of "Maddy deserves to fry Scott for treating her like that", even though I still love Cyclops.

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  9. Storm notes that the Reavers' computers curiously contain a lot of info on the X-Men, and wonders where they came from, but nothing really comes from her line of thought.

    Curiouser still that the virus the X-Men uploaded into the world's computer system back in 158 hasn't come along to clean this out yet -- especially since the virus was referenced just a scant few issues before this.

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  10. Love this issue and am a big fan of what Silvestri did here. I remember hiding this book and the rest of Inferno hoping my parents wouldn't take away my, what I though of at that time, 'porno' comic books, at least it would have been considered that in my house.

    I love how Maddie and Mr. Sinister are written here. I stopped buying Uncanny when Sinister was turned into a top hat wearing Victorian era reject.

    This is SINISTER. This, horrible teeth, master manipulator, pure evil. Not someone that dances around in top hats. I understand that is time period he came from, but he never regains that pure evil, could do so much evil genius that he does here.

    Maddie is also the same. She recently resurfaced in the all Women X-Men and she hardly said a word and was regulated to a henchman. WHAT?! This girl is amazingly bad. She seduces her brother in law, brings the X-Men to it's knees and almost takes over the world with Demons. She is AMAZINGLY BAD A$$ and yet modern writers can't handle either of these two epic characters.

    So who drew it better - Psyclocke coming out of a pool - this issue with Silvestri or Jim Lee in X-Men 8?

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  11. So who drew it better - Psyclocke coming out of a pool - this issue with Silvestri or Jim Lee in X-Men 8?

    Jim Lee. That one is something else.

    I tend to fall on the side of liking Asian ninja Psylocke a little better than British Psylocke, anyway. Probably because that was the one I grew up with.

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  12. So who drew it better - Psyclocke coming out of a pool - this issue with Silvestri or Jim Lee in X-Men 8?

    For me Silvesstri drew my Psylocke. I'm a huge fan of British Betsy, I always loved her training sessions. They never lasted long, but always lead to some great dialogue. I'm more on his side of things. she was soft with curves. Lee's was too hard, though I did like Lee's style for awhile, seeing as he did a few issues of the outback.

    I just wish that the Coloring was better back then. So many off putting colors, drove me nuts.
    I like where she is now under Spurrier, but I do miss my English Rose.

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  13. It's not a theory I've ever seen mentioned but I've always wondered if the Outback computer was somehow connected to the weird super-advanced living computer in Captain Britain's basement from the British comics. (Known sometimes as Mastermind-- just not THAT Mastermind.)

    i know it's a little out of left field, but I do think I've noticed the two computers being described in very similar language a few times, and Claremont was so into using the Captain Britain mythos around this period that I wouldn't put it past him to try to connect them somehow.

    Even if he wasn't planning on making them related in-story, I definitely suspect that Mastermind was his inspiration for the Reavers' computer. Funny how Psylocke never even thought to mention it!

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  14. Jeff: I tend to fall on the side of liking Asian ninja Psylocke a little better than British Psylocke, anyway. Probably because that was the one I grew up with.

    Probably it's for the same reason why I with my Davis-drawn sensibilities from UXM 213 feel the whole premises of the question is wrong. Rising from a pool in bath suit... MY Psylocke is about taking down Sabretooth in an evening gown.

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  15. " issue 150 is the first chronological issue I believe I saw, around the same time. Try to imagine my confusion over the gigantic differences between that issue and this one!"

    For me it was X-Men 218, with the classic reprint of 124 (conclusion of the first Arcade two-parter). Like you, about a 90-issue gap.

    So I can very much imagine your confusion. :) For me, it was two X-Men issues with not a single team-member in common, as even longtime mainstays Storm and Wolverine didn't turn up in 218. (That's the one where the four newbies fight Juggernaut.)

    Literally the only shared elements were: the Juggernaut (who is shown in issue 124 in ONE PANEL hiring Arcade) and that each issue has a passing, one-time reference to Captain Britain.

    At the time, I'm not sure I could have picked two more disparate issues if I'd tried.

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  16. Silvestri's Psylocke is better than Lee's, IMO. Even when he drew the Asian version (in Uncanny 273).

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  17. Had you come in a month later, Jason, you would have been in for a double treat of the X-Men learning a redhead close to Scott is alive in one of the alternate based of the mutants and his brother's greenhead girlfriend being assaulted.

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  18. "Curiouser still that the virus the X-Men uploaded into the world's computer system back in 158 hasn't come along to clean this out yet -- especially since the virus was referenced just a scant few issues before this."

    Because as the scene a scant few issues earlier established, a computer only gets infected if it connects to one that already has the virus.

    The Genoshans didn't have a problem until they tapped a U.S. network. If the Reavers never did anything similar, they wouldn't have a problem.

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  19. But was it the 158 virus that wiped the data on the X-Men as soon as it was put on the Genoshans' computers? I always thought it was Roma's spell of invisibility to electric machines that played that particular havoc on them.

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  20. "Had you come in a month later, Jason, you would have been in for a double treat of the X-Men learning a redhead close to Scott is alive in one of the alternate based of the mutants and his brother's greenhead girlfriend being assaulted."

    UXM 218 and Classic 30 weren't actually on sale concurrently ... I bought the latter fresh off the rack and the former out of a back-issue box.

    (The concurrent issue was 241, actually ... which is probably why I ignored it. I wanted an issue of "Uncanny X-Men," not "Inferno X-Men," whatever THAT was supposed to be ...)

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  21. @Scott: So who drew it better - Psyclocke coming out of a pool - this issue with Silvestri or Jim Lee in X-Men 8?

    I've gotta go with X-Men #8, just because that was the first ever issue of X-Men that I ever read, and I'm also fairly certain that scene is responsible for kicking me into puberty.

    @Ben: It's not a theory I've ever seen mentioned but I've always wondered if the Outback computer was somehow connected to the weird super-advanced living computer in Captain Britain's basement from the British comics

    Ah, yeah, I could see that. That would be a neat connection.

    @Teemu: I always thought it was Roma's spell of invisibility to electric machines that played that particular havoc on them.

    I'm pretty sure they specifically mention a virus causing the problem. Granted, Roma's spell could work like a virus, but since we already know there's a virus out there specifically designed to do what the Genoshans are having a problem with, it seems easier to assume the virus is the culprit, and not Roma's-spell-as-a-virus.

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  22. I think it definitely was the virus and not Roma. Banshee points out to Cable during the X-tinction Agenda as much, explaining to him why all the X-teams (X-men, X-factor, and New Mutants) don't exist on any governmental database.

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  23. The best art in the issue, for my money, is the character work on the civilians in the bar. Younger me would've only cared about the superhero figures, but here I appreciate the characterization in the faces and body languages of those incidental characters while I find the idealized paragons lacking.

    // There's no space smell on it? //

    I guess. Made no sense to me, whereas the DOFP Kitty situation can be explained away with hormones and such.

    // The art also suggests that when Carol is in control, she can touch people without absorbing their powers and abilities //

    Huh. I'm disappointed to hear that this doesn't get picked up later, at least not in Claremont's (initial) run, because it was a sort-of glaringly subtle bit of business. As I read the issue, I too thought for a moment that it was Rogue/Carol having another go at Betsy, but then nothing came of it.

    // this has always felt like the issue where Silvestri really cranks up the sexiness //

    Betsy's little striptease came across as really weird to me, due both to how nonchalant she was and to the odd revelation that she apparently wears a teddy, and nothing but a teddy, under her armor-costume. At least Peter is embarrassed.

    // then jokes about being a mind-reader //

    She more than jokes, actually, because it's clear to us that Alex doesn't say that bit out loud, although of course he isn't looking at a static page to check on whether it was in a thought bubble or a word balloon and he has no reason to suspect that Maddie is telepathic.

    // The issue closes on a close-up of her eye, containing the Phoenix firebird effect. //

    I hadn't caught that one, so I appreciate you pointing it out, even as I get a little frustrated with the abundance of Phoenix images teased around both Jean and Maddie since at this point Jean was not bodily connected to the Phoenix entity/power in any way.

    Sinister musing over the figurines is a great way to structure the issue, which is otherwise one of those character-based issues whose only fight scene is a training session among some of the heroes. Not that I'm complaining, since I've always liked those.

    The Claremont dialogue patterns really are in overdrive now.

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  24. @wwk5d: // You'd think the fact that it contained a picture of Storm's outfit from the dimension the adversary sent her and Forge to might be freaking her out a bit more //

    I had the same thought. And I'm sorry to hear that no background on it is forthcoming, either, particularly since I like Ben's idea about it relating to the sentient supercomputer under Braddock Manor but really just because it rather demands explanation. I will use its seeming omnivoyance to account for Alex's photo of himself and Lorna, though, since Roma didn't exactly allow the team to pack before depositing them in the Outback.

    @Matt: // I still can't stand Claremont's prose descriptions of Dazzler singing. It's well-written, but it does nothing for me. //

    The prose itself, while purple, doesn't bother me so much when he's keeping it abstractly descriptive, but then he mentions that Alison is specifically singing the Tina Turner version of "Proud Mary" and the film unspooling in my mind as I read along goes right off the rails.

    @Jeff: // Cockrum and especially Byrne seemed to get Storm naked almost every issue when she was basically the only full-time woman on the team. So it's not like this is unprecedented. //

    It comes down to personality. Storm was very specifically immodest (or amodest, perhaps), taking a swim in the nude or clotheslessly enjoying the rain shower that she'd whipped up for her plants in the attic. Betsy peeling off her outfit to go for a dip in the lacy camisole she apparently wears under it does not compute to me.

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