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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #250

"The Shattered Star"
Late October 1989

In a Nutshell 
Zaladane steals Polaris' powers

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Guest Finisher: Steve Leialoha
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In Antarctica, a Soviet research station is destroyed as Zaladane calls forth one of the High Evolutionary's hidden bases from the ground beneath it. Leading her horde inside, she takes the surviving Soviets captive, executing the ones who won't be of use, then prepares to use one of the High Evolutionary's devices to transfer Lorna's power to her. Havok, hidden amongst Zaladane's army, attempts to stop her, but his subterfuge was noticed by the Mutates and he's easily subdued, forced to watch as Zaladane steals Lorna's power. Zaladane returns to her Savage Land citadel, where the Mutate Worm takes control of the Soviets. Psylocke and the remaining X-Men witness this telepathically, but they fall under Worm's control as well. Rendered unsconscious, Psylocke is pulled into Gateway's Dreamtime, where she witnesses a vision of the X-Men's deaths in Australia.


Later, the possessed X-Men deliver a captive Ka-Zar, Shanna and Nereel to Zaladane, who uses her new magnetic powers to threaten Ka-Zar and Nereel's sons via Colossus. In the dungeons below, a suddenly taller and stronger Lorna breaks free of her bonds and releases Havok, who cheers on her aggression towards the Mutates. They attack Zaladane just as Colossus is about to kill the children, breaking her control over him. In the ensuing fight, Nereel's son manages to take out Worm, freeing the rest of the X-Men. Havok blasts Zaladane, damaging the throne room, and in the confusion, the X-Men and the freed Soviets and Savage Landers escape. Outside, Havok attempts to destroy the citadel, but his blast is deflected, suggesting Zaladane remains alive. Psylocke, remembering her vision, is just about to suggest the X-Men remain in the Savage Land for awhile when Gateway suddenly returns them home.

Firsts and Other Notables
Polaris' magnetic powers are transferred to Zaladane this issue, but in the process, she seemingly acquires new powers, as she's now taller, stronger and invulnerable. Eventually, it'll be revealed that she's absorbing some kind of energy to power herself. It's also hinted that she now makes people around her more ruthless and bloodthirsty, something that will later be confirmed but never fully explained, until it's attributed to the Shadow King (even though Lorna's new powers pop up before his reappearance) after Claremont leaves the book. Lorna also learns of Zaladane's claim to be her sister in this issue. 


We're introduced to another new Mutate in this issue: Worm, who secrets a slimy membrane that allows him to take control of people's bodies. 


While unconscious, Psylocke experiences a vision of the X-Men dying in their town, and the idea of using the Siege Perilous to escape that fate is first hinted at. Psylocke decides the best course of action is to keep the X-Men away from Australia for awhile, but of course, they're sent back there at the end of the issue.


We're in the Savage Land, so of course Ka-Zar shows up briefly, alongside his wife, Shana the She-Devil, their young son, Colossus' baby mama and leader of the United Tribes Nereel, and her son Peter. In one of the issue's best (and subtle) moments, Zaladane tries to use Colossus kill Peter, a horrifying act on its own made even worse by our knowledge that Colossus would also be unknowingly murdering his son.


A Work in Progress
It's established that as a result of the power transfer with Zaladane, Malice's connection to Polaris has been fully severed (it's implied that Malice was killed, but we'll eventually learn that's not true). 


In a nice bit of continuity, as the X-Men and the Savage Landers escape from Zaladane, Ka-Zar points out that the X-Men are supposed to be dead (their help restoring the Savage Land in annual #14 having been erased from their memories by Psylocke).


At the end of the issue, Gateway omniously teleports the X-Men back to Australia just as Psylocke is about to suggest they lay low in the Savage Land for awhile, which contradicts the idea suggested last issue that Gateway can only teleport them back from the location to which he initially deposited them.

I Love the 80s
The Soviet scientists at the beginning of the issue are discussing bootleg copies of such 1989 film hits as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II and Batman, in a panel that makes for a great "I Love the 80s" microcosm (man, '89 was a great year for movies, even beyond those three). 


Silvestrisms
Psylocke is compelled to strip off her armor and go for a swim at one point.


Young Love
Alex says he loved Lorna once, and may love her still. 


Nereel continues to carry a torch for Colossus. 


It's in the Mail
A response to a letter in this issue teases a Professor X/Starjammers story in Marvel Comics Presents; I believe that's what ultimately becomes the Spotlight on the Starjammers miniseries.

Teebore's Take
The notion that every 25th issue of a comic book should be a big anniversary celebration is a conceit of the speculator boom of the early 90s (when publishers looked for any excuse to slap extra pages, a chromium die-cut foil embossed cover and a higher price tag onto a comic), but, having come of comics reading age in that era, there's a part of me that reflexively feels like the 25th, 50th, 75th and 00th issues of series should maybe be a little bit bigger of a deal than surrounding issues.

All of which is to say, that absolutely isn't the case here, and it's arguably the weakest "25th" issue of Claremont's run, the second part of a two part retro story (and not in a good way, as with issue #246) plopped down in the midst of the title's darkest and most experimental storyline yet. If you squint, I guess Zaladane getting Polaris' powers and Polaris getting new powers is kinda significant (and, intentional or not, it does make for a nice callback to the Polaris-centric 50th issue, 200 issues ago), but this is hardly the stuff of the series' altering Magneto turns in issue #150 and #200, or even Scott and Madelyne's wedding in #175.

Putting aside any (admittedly unfair) anniversary expectations, it doesn't help that this issue isn't very good on its own terms. Both Silvestri and Leialoha are accomplished artists, but the end result of their pairing here is a sloppy, watered-down combination of Silvestri's sexy chic and Leialoha's more informal, Mignola-esque styles. The plot is rushed; not that I necessarily want to spend more time in this story, but major story beats happen with little explanation (the X-Men somehow getting possessed by Worm) or off-panel (the X-Men singlehandedly defeating the Savage Landers not loyal to Zaladane) and then everything gets quickly wrapped up with a lot of telling because the pages are running out ("I guess Zaladane survived after all!" ).

Polaris' developments as a result of this issue will become important to Claremont's last major story in this title (even if the character herself mostly gets shuffled into the background) and Psylocke's vision of the X-Men's deaths set up the events of next issue and the culmination of the "dissolution" part of this story effectively enough, but it seems like the stuff surrounding that material could have been better handled. Especially for the series' 250th issue.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Kitty deals with a prince's engagement in Excalibur #13, and Friday, "The Gehenna Stone Affair" continues in Wolverine #13 and #14. Next week, Wolverine returns in X-Men #251.

15 comments:

  1. I agree with you on Silverstri/Leialoha. Two great tastes that do not taste great together.

    Otherwise, I have no opinion on this issue. As I've said before, all the stuff from post-"Inferno" up to here is really just the uninteresting prologue to Wolverine nailed to that big "X". That's when I start to enjoy the series again.

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  2. "Polaris' magnetic powers are transferred to Zaladane this issue"

    I always wondered what CC's original plans with the power switch were. Then again, as we've seen, CC does like to randomly change character's powers and even ethnicities for no apparent reason, so...whatever.

    Of course, another reason I have suspected he needed a power change for Lorna (at least temporarily, at any rate) is that he needs to stack the deck in favor of the Reavers in their upcoming assault on Muir Island...but we'll get to that later.

    "Psylocke experiences a vision of the X-Men dying in their town"

    A nice callback to her pre-cog abilities from her days during the Captain Britain series?

    "which contradicts the idea suggested last issue that Gateway can only teleport them back from the location to which he initially deposited them"

    Not like CC to make a mistake like that...

    "Psylocke is compelled to strip off her armor and go for a swim at one point"

    Soon, she won't need to strip off her armor, she'll be parading around in her underwear all the time!

    I'm a little more warm to issue that Teebore is...the nostalgia goggles must be much stronger for me lol

    I also don't think the art is that bad. I kind of like the Silvestri/Leihola art together. It's not as polished as what you usually get, but it works for me.

    As for the story...yeah, it could've been better.

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  3. @wwk5d: he needs to stack the deck in favor of the Reavers in their upcoming assault on Muir Island

    Yeah, having someone with magnetic powers on the island when they attack would tip the scales against the Reavers pretty heavily.

    A nice callback to her pre-cog abilities from her days during the Captain Britain series?

    I didn't realize she had precog abilities back then too, but knowing that, yeah, it makes sense that she'd be the one to have the vision.

    Not like CC to make a mistake like that...

    If anything, the mistake was last issue, with the odd exposition about Gateway's power that didn't fit anything that had come before or, after.

    I'm a little more warm to issue that Teebore is...the nostalgia goggles must be much stronger for me lol

    Ha! Could be. My nostalgia for this particular era isn't quite as strong for some of the stuff before and after it. But I also freely admit that a lot of my hangup with this issue is totally on me.

    The plot is rushed (to the point of nonsense at times) and the art is pretty meh, but everything else is just my own personal hangup.

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  4. I just read this for the first time on Comixology and, man, this is one sloppy issue.

    Worm seems to be able to control the X-Men without touching them, even though earlier it says he needs the "mucus membrane" to control them. I assume there was a lettering error that caused Colossus to speak Zaladane's lines. Kazar claims Zaladane is making him talk for her but Colossus clearly is in control of his mental faculties even as he's about to kill his son. The split art doesn't look great. Ka-zar is defeated and captured off-panel with no real set up.

    This was pretty bad. I do wonder if there was behind the scenes confusion that caused this to be so messed up. The previews for the storylines in interviews definitely don't match up any more.

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  5. @Jeff: Worm seems to be able to control the X-Men without touching them

    I've read some summaries of this issue that suggest it was Zaladane controlling Colossus remotely (via her magnetism) when he was trying to drown Psylocke, and Worm didn't take control of Dazzler until after he secreted his goo on her as we see on panel.

    Of course, that isn't made clear AT ALL via either the art or the story, and it still doesn't offer up a very good explanation for why Psylocke goes swimming in the first place (beyond the stated "she's so horrified...she needs to swim...???")

    Kazar claims Zaladane is making him talk for her but Colossus clearly is in control of his mental faculties even as he's about to kill his son.

    I do wonder if there was behind the scenes confusion that caused this to be so messed up.

    I also wonder if the twice-a-month shipping schedule could have contributed to it as well. We're still early in that batch of issues (so I don't think it's a case of the creative team just being overworked), but maybe with three extra issues looming, Claremont had to change things up last minute or something, and things started slipping through the cracks.

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  6. Worm didn't take control of Dazzler until after he secreted his goo on her

    This issue definitely felt like it hit all of Claremont's....interests?

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  7. Teebore: Of course, that isn't made clear AT ALL via either the art or the story, and it still doesn't offer up a very good explanation for why Psylocke goes swimming in the first place (beyond the stated "she's so horrified...she needs to swim...???")

    She.does react unusually strongly to what's happening off-panel to the Russian scientist woman. "Compulsively needs a shower" badly. The whole Worm creature seem to go straight to the darkest end of the mind control thingy, especially so when in the next Savage Land story he transfers control for Shanna and Nereel to Brainchild who keeps calling them his "babes" or something.

    Between that and the Mutates planning to do something to Lorna while Alex is watching and unable to help, there's an overall pretty uncomfortable subtext going on. Got me wondering if the raw naturalism of the "Savage Land" has always had this intentional sexual element in it, with Colossus having threesomes there, Sauron giving up to his "urges" and whatnot. Bringing in a slimy mind-controllling Worm to it is a questionable call.

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  8. "I also wonder if the twice-a-month shipping schedule could have contributed to it as well."

    I think that being on a twice-a-month schedule just really threw Silvestri off, for whatever reason, this time. Even on a regular monthly schedule, he's needed a fill-in artist occasionally, so God only knows how things were for this issue. Especially since he has someone finishing off his work, instead of just inking him. Was this issue double sized?

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  9. Should've started my quote one step earlier...

    Teebore: I've read some summaries of this issue that suggest it was Zaladane controlling Colossus remotely (via her magnetism) when he was trying to drown Psylocke

    That should be obvious really from Betsy's notion that "it isn't Peter's mind that's being controlled... it's his body!" There's a villain with magnetic powers aloof, haven't we done this like million times.

    On that notion, who can complain about Zaladane's massive 'Z' on her uniform, when the temporarily goody Master of Magnetism has until recently pranced around with his massive 'M' on his uniform. Especially as her magnetic powers are really the genetic legacy of Lorna's from Magneto and very especially when we remember what was his final act in his turn for to be again the antagonist in adjectiveless #1.

    It'll be harsh when he will realize he's no Charles Xavier, in the next 25th no less. Jason Powell has noted on his Remarkable piece on #275 that "in the same gesture with which he renounces heroism, he also slaughters the character that was set up from the start as an avatar of his original terrorist incarnation. Magneto is now neither a superhero nor a supervillain." What he graciously has left for us others to note is that Zaladane does her avataring in an uniform with elements strongly reminding of Magneto's "hero" uniform. The big Z so needs to be there. If A. Adams just pulled it from his ass for the annual, he's an unknowing genius.

    Curious coincidence that it's yet again the Russian people who have to take the blunt of a mistress of magnetism stretching out, also foreshadowing for issue #275 and probably needed too to bring the Russian troops for the showdown, and alongside them colonel Vazhin who was last seen on Uncanny in the build-up for hero Magneto joining the gang.

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  10. What I'm trying to say is I kind of like this story with its faults and all. It's all over the place, yes, but, not that one should be aware of it now, it's mostly only a part one for the Mags in Savage Land story that will start properly only when we'll next see Rogue. The pre-Siege Perilous X-Men are, likely intentionally, totally wrecked here and it's nice touch that it's post-Siege Perilous Rogue that'll have to clean up their mess here. The story sort of clicks in in hindsight then.

    Mind you, the Silvestri's portrayal of the Mutates here will become overwhelmingly cartoony when compared to that of Jim Lee's later on.

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  11. "That should be obvious really from Betsy's notion that "it isn't Peter's mind that's being controlled... it's his body!" There's a villain with magnetic powers aloof, haven't we done this like million times."
    Also, Zaladane says Worm's "influence is limited to the flesh but I've other means to control Colossus". That clearly is Zaladane saying- Worm can't control Colossus, I was doing it earlier.

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  12. Teemu -- "On that notion, who can complain about Zaladane's massive 'Z' on her uniform, when the temporarily goody Master of Magnetism has until recently pranced around with his massive 'M' on his uniform."

    Ahh, but you forget -- the giant "M" on Magento's costum was also unbelievably dopey. If Adams made Zaladane's costume as a tribute to that, then fine -- but that doesn't stop both costume from being horrendous crimes against the characters wearing them.

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  13. Matt, I don't forget but actively allow my love for JRjr to prevent me acknowledging the horridness of his costume designs and instead love them for the camp value.

    It's Mags' hero costume, and the thing you have on your chest (or on your forehead) when you're a big damn hero is the initial of your name. For a while Mags indeed was the torch carrier for the line of heroes who have taken it upon themselves to dispose lots of America's current enemies, the first ones Nazies and the Cold War era Mags Russians... collecting chronologically: S-A-M. You know what we say about alleged coincidences...

    It was probably only because of a half-deaf tailor or something that Mags' hero costume wasn't of primary colors but, hah, magenta.

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  14. I guess it's just Silvestri's thing to have Psylocke strip and swim, making Claremont scramble to dress up the situation appropriately (so to speak). The frequent dissonance between the words and pictures in this run is now officially a trend, whatever the cause. Maybe it's poor communication between Claremont and Silvestri, maybe it's an outright struggle for control of the narrative, maybe it's simple time-crunch sloppiness brought upon by someone's or everyone's (including editorial's) biting off more than could properly be chewed with the accelerated summer shipping schedules and spinoffs.

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  15. Yeah this storyline was weak. It felt like filler to fufill the biwekly shipping schedule requirements. And while I'm not fond of gratuitous gimicks for anniversary issues, this is an especially egrarious use of a 250th issue, focusing on a character that's not even one of the main cast, leaving little time to reflect on the changing team dynamics (keep in mind that most of the longer-serving X-men are gone at this point. It wasn't that long since most of the remaining team were the "newbies").

    Lorna's inexplicable power change also just seem too underwhelmingly bizarre! First of all, her "new" powers make her WAY too similar to a certain other green-haired amazon. Secondly, Claremont apparently had some kind of weird fetish for (unnecesary) female body modification as within the course of only ten issues we get to see it with many other X-Woman like Storm and Psylocke.

    The "Polaris and Zaladane are sisters" subplot is equally disatisfying. First it over-complicates an tangled family history that has already re-retconned over and over again to incomprehension. And even ignoring later revelations about Lorna, one suspects Claremont forgot that it's been established that the people who raised Lorna were her adoptive parents. And of course it's been revealed that her BIRTH father really...wasn't. Oops! (even though it seems like Claremont is implying Zaladane is a half-sister on the "father's" side). Neverles this famiial revelation still could have worked. The problem is that Claremont complicates matters in #253 by having a scientist saying the link is genetic. Which of course doesn't make sense! ARGH! Stuff like this is part of the reason many people stay away from the X-books.

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