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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

X-amining X-Men #263

"The Lower Depths"
Early July 1990

In a Nutshell 
Forge, Banshee & Marvel Girl help rescue Peter Nicholas & Callisto from Masque & the Morlocks. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Bill Jaaska
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In the Morlock Tunnels, Forge and Marvel Girl, her arms still a seething mass of tentacles thanks to Masque, are alerted to activity by a recon drone created and sent by Forge to scout the tunnels. They watch as the captive Peter Nicholas and Callisto are transformed by Masque, Peter into a facsimile of Colossus' armored form and Callisto into her old, scarred self. Masque then tells Callisto she has an hour to get Peter to the surface before the Morlocks hunt them down. Meanwhile, Val Cooper meets with Russian intelligence officer Colonel Vazhin at a nightclub in Washington DC, and they discuss the state of mutant affairs and the danger they pose to humanity.


Back in the tunnels, Forge, Marvel Girl and a mouth-less Banshee track Peter and Callisto. The three groups collide just as Masque stabs Peter with a knife, but Peter strangely finds himself unharmed. After the most of the Morlocks are defeated, Peter grabs Masque by the throat, demanding he set them all free in exchange for Masque's life, and Masque orders Peter, Callisto and the X-Men teleported to the surface. Later, at Peter's loft, Banshee and Marvel Girl, restored to their normal forms by Forge, discuss whether or not they should try to bring Peter back to the life of a superhero, while on the roof, Forge pays tribute to his old Vietnam unit, thankful that this time, he was able to bring his people home safely. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Thankfully, Mouthless Banshee and Tentacle Jean Grey are restored to normal at the end of the issue, thanks to Forge having taken a sample of their genetic template in the previous issue when he inoculated them, then building a device throughout this issue which uses that template to overwrite Masque's changes.


Val Cooper meets with Colonel Vazhin, the Russian version of Nick Fury (whom we last saw on X-Men #194), in a scene that is mostly setup for the upcoming but ultimately aborted "Mutant War" storyline, but still works (for the most part) as foreshadowing for what we do eventually get. 

This issue confirms that the supermodel with whom Peter Nicholas has been obsessed over the last few issues is indeed Callisto, her look transformed by Masque such that it periodically reverts to her original form (which is a new use of Masque's power).


The series returns to bi-weekly shipping for the summer of 1990 with this issue, the third and final summer in which an extra three issues of the series is produced. It unfortunately coincides with a time when the series is between artists, awaiting the arrival of Jim Lee, and as a result, stretches out what would have otherwise been a brief transitional period into a full blown run of sub-par, rotating fill-in art.

To wit, Bill Jaaska picks up the penciling baton from Kieron Dwyer, and he will return to draw issue #265 as well. 

The Chronology Corner
Marvel Girl next appears in X-Factor #56 following this issue, but she'll be back in next issue as well. Masque next appears in New Mutants #91.

A Work in Progress
Forge suggests that the Reavers are worse than the Marauders, which seems a bit like telling rather than showing given what the Marauders have accomplished relative to the Reavers, at this point. 

Forge asks Jean how her telepathic powers are holding up, which seems like a typo given that she talks about telekinesis.


Masque is shown sans hood throughout this issue, the first time he's been so depicted. I'm not a huge fan of the "crazy old man in a pimp jacket" look Jaaska gives him here.


Masque believes Peter Nicholas to simply resemble Colossus, believing that the real deal is dead, and transforms his flesh to resemble Colossus armored form. The footnote pertaining to the death of the X-Men incorrectly notes issue #243 (the end of "Inferno"), not #227 (the end of "Fall of the Mutants", when the X-Men actually "died").


Later, Peter subconsciously activates his power, turning to steel for real.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Colonel Vazhin notes that the "old order' is breaking down, with heroes and villains no longer playing by the usual rules, which doubles as a bit of fourth wall breaking commentary on the changes affecting superheroes comics, now and deeper into the 90s.

The Reference Section
The name and appearance of Colonel Vazhin's aide, Debra Levin, is apparently taken from the Nth Man cast member Sergeant Debra Levin.


Claremontisms
Forge chides Jean Grey for startling "a body".


For Sale
There's an ad for the Nintendo X-Men video game in this issue, one of the worst games I've ever played.


We also get another Dick Tracy ad.


Bullpen Bulletins
With the upcoming release of the original Captain America and Punisher movies, there's much excitement about the idea of TWO Marvel movies coming out in the same year. If they could see us now...


Teebore's Take
So, I really don't like Tentacle Jean Grey.

Superheroes comics thrive on the suspension of disbelief: that a man can fly, that a traumatized orphan could become the world's greatest detective, that radiation delivered in the right way will give someone superpowers instead of a slow death by cancer. There's an implicit agreement between the audience and the creators: you entertain us, we'll look the other way when it comes to some of the more illogical elements of your story.

But everyone has their breaking point, the thing that shatters their suspension of disbelief and takes them out of the story. A real world detail, like the layout of a street or a flagrant scientific error, carelessly gotten wrong without serving the story, a new superpower that strains credibility, destruction on a scale that failure to comment on it in-story becomes ludicrous. For whatever reason, when it comes to the X-Men, Tentacle Jean Grey is that breaking point for me. I'm fine with the idea of mutants in general, of Cyclops not knocking his own head off when he uses his powers or the definition of "magnetic" being applied liberally in regards to Magneto. I'm even fine with the idea of a Morlock who can mold flesh like so much clay, even to the point that he can mold said flesh to perfectly resemble the face of another. But ask me to buy that he can also replace someone's arms with a mass of writhing purple tentacles with a psychic connection to their owner? Nope, that's it, I'm done. Tapping out.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, Tentacle Jean Grey is not that big a deal. Claremont will trot out this idea again, briefly, much later with another character (he, apparently, really likes the idea, God only knows why; physical transformation in general certainly is one of his pet ideas), but it's not like this is even a semi-permanent change for the character: it's pretty much over and done in one issue. And it is admittedly kinda creepy, a disconcerting change for the character, heightened by the (probably unintentional) dead-eyed look Jaaska gives Jean throughout the issue.

But my distaste for Jean Grey being given a bunch of tentacles in place of her arms by Masque still colors my reaction to this two-part Morlock story overall, as well as this whole little mini era of rotating artists and hopscotching narrative focus. Maybe if this issue were stronger, something more than a weak attempt to artificially pump up the danger of fighting a bunch of loser Morlocks by comparing the experience to Forge's time in Vietnam via mostly generic flashbacks, I could get over my tentacle hangup, but as it is, it's hard for me to enjoy this issue at all, and to escape the feeling that Tentacle Jean Grey is representative of a rare and brief, period in time where Claremont seems particularly unfocused and off his game.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the New Mutants take a crack at the Morlocks in New Mutants #91. Friday, X-Factor runs afoul of the Ravens in X-Factor #56. Next week, the Genoshans attack in Uncanny X-Men #264.

Collected Editions

18 comments:

  1. "in a scene that is mostly setup for the upcoming but ultimately aborted "Mutant War" storyline, but still works (for the most part) as foreshadowing for what we do eventually get."

    Kind of. Though it would have been interesting to see what CC and others had in mind for the "Mutant War".

    "Forge suggests that the Reavers are worse than the Marauders, which seems a bit like telling rather than showing given what the Marauders have accomplished relative to the Reavers, at this point."

    Seriously. Looks like CC is still propping up the Reavers/X-men confrontation we never ended ip getting.

    "The name and appearance of Colonel Vazhin's aide, Debra Levin, is apparently taken from the Nth Man cast member Sergeant Debra Levin."

    I'm guessing the unknown faction referred to in that panel was the Shadow King? And I'm not being flip, but he seems to be the only person at the time who could fit that description. Although it is interesting that they have intel on Mr. Sinister, of all people, and none on the Shadow King.

    Also, how cold was is in that nightclub?

    I wonder if a better artist would have salvaged the story? Or maybe just made it at least nice to look at. It does seem like a story focusing on Forge ended up being a Morlock/Colossus/hentai tentacle story instead.

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  2. From what I've read about the "Mutant War" story: various factions of mutants (X-Men, X-Force, Apocalypse, Sinister, Stryfe) battling it out, it seems like this eventually became the X-Cutioner's Song crossover a couple of years later. Maybe the plot was more Bob Harras' than Claremont's.

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  3. As tentacled arms go, Selen wore it best in the Kulan Gath story. It's a Black Queen thing I reckon. And, as we also see colonel Vazhin return, I'd like to take this moment to remind everyone of the notion that Claremont of this era heavily revisits/reintroduces the stuff from UXM #~180-200.

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  4. @wwk5d: Though it would have been interesting to see what CC and others had in mind for the "Mutant War".

    Definitely.

    I'm guessing the unknown faction referred to in that panel was the Shadow King?

    In all seriousness, yeah, that's always been my assumption as well.

    Although it is interesting that they have intel on Mr. Sinister, of all people, and none on the Shadow King.

    I suppose, as a super duper telepath, it's even easier for the Shadow King to cover his tracks? I mean, it's there in his name, he's shadowy...

    @Leo: From what I've read about the "Mutant War" story: various factions of mutants (X-Men, X-Force, Apocalypse, Sinister, Stryfe) battling it out, it seems like this eventually became the X-Cutioner's Song crossover a couple of years later

    A little, though X-Cutioner's Song is *very* driven by the whole Cable/Stryfe relationship/identity mystery, such that everything else is kind of secondary. It's possible Harras just had the Cable/Stryfe stuff wedded to the general concept of "Mutant War"; then again, the general concept of "Mutant War" (factions of mutants fight) is so generic, it could be entirely coincidental.

    And, as we also see colonel Vazhin return, I'd like to take this moment to remind everyone of the notion that Claremont of this era heavily revisits/reintroduces the stuff from UXM #~180-200.

    There's definitely refrains of some of that material going on here.


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  5. "Although it is interesting that they have intel on Mr. Sinister, of all people, and none on the Shadow King.

    I suppose, as a super duper telepath, it's even easier for the Shadow King to cover his tracks? I mean, it's there in his name, he's shadowy..."

    True, but how would anyone know about Sinister besides the X-teams? The MLF was very public about their actions, and even in Apocalypse's case, I can see various governments learning about him after FOTM. X-factor name checked him on camera, didn't they? Plus, with his ship becoming public knowledge, that would be something else for people to start investigating him.

    In Sinister's case, there was never anything public about him, other than the Marauders attacking the hospital in San Francisco. Maybe Vazhin's network is just that good? lol

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  6. So, I really don't like Tentacle Jean Grey.

    To me the issue with Tentacle Jean is that it's thematically random; the tentacles seem to me to have very little to do with what makes Jean Jean, at least in the pages of X-Men. (I've read very little X-Factor.) She could be swapped out with just about any X-Woman and it wouldn't affect the story very much. This is problem is pronounced because the return of Jean Grey to the pages of X-Men should be a symbolically momentous occasion, especially during this tumultuous era: she's one of the most important characters in the books history, and we've barely seen her since her death. Her return, even in a guest-starring role, should be an occasion to stand up and cheer, and yet Claremont doesn't even really try. It lands with a major thud.

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  7. "I'm guessing the unknown faction referred to in that panel was the Shadow King?"
    In issue 264, it's explicitly stated to be the Shadow King.
    The idea that meeting in a nightclub would protect Cooper and Vazhin from being monitored by a telepath is ridiculous. If a telepath was interested in their conversation, can't he just wait until they leave the nightclub and then read their minds? And as we'll see in issue 265, that's exactly what the Shadow King did.
    Masque claims that he's never seen Colossus in human form, but he has, in issue 170.
    I had no problem with Masque being able to turn Jean's arms into tentacles per se. My problems were twofold: (1) the explanation is that Jean can't use her telekinesis because the arms are too heavy to lift telekinetically. But Jean is usually written as able to lift at least a couple of tons telekintetically. If the arms are that heavy, then how is Jean able to hang from pipes without the pipes breaking?
    (2) Forge claims that Masque can alter the tunnels themselves, an ability he's never shown before or since.

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  8. Anonymous: Masque claims that he's never seen Colossus in human form, but he has, in issue 170.

    And yet totally out of nowhere can drop Colossus' civilian name. Granted, he might have an exceptional name memory, or he too has been reading the X-Men's files, the well-tested and vocally-checked method for people to recognize people you would not expect the said people to recognize.

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  9. With the upcoming release of the original Captain America and Punisher movies, there's much excitement about the idea of TWO Marvel movies coming out in the same year. If they could see us now...

    Heh!...and, of course, both The Punisher and Captain America were direct-to-video duds. At that point, Marvel's only presence in movie theaters had been Howard The Duck...a pretty low bar to raise and they still struggled to do so. Marvel still had a lot to learn.

    I remember it was around this period that we were, also, hearing rumblings of a Spider-Man movie in the works. James Cameron's name was, at one point, attached. And that got stuck, for ages, in development hell.

    It wasn't until 1998's Blade that Marvel would FINALLY get some traction with their movies. It was all uphill from there.

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  10. Ha, yes. James Cameron's X-Men, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Colossus, Robert DeNiro as Wolverine and the dude who's Picard in Star Trek: TNG as Xavier.

    And yet everyone lauds Spider-Man as the proof of superhero flick's commercial potential, and poor Blade doesn't nowadays get even a mention of Ryan Reynolds having been Hannibal King, kind of, in a sequel. And mah phone seems to think the word starting with 'D' after 'Robert' should be 'Downey'.

    The fact still stands that He-Man/Punisher stands head taller than Human Torch/Captain America or Hannibal King/Deadpool/Green Lantern, only Batman/Daredevil as his potential peer.

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  11. Dont judge me - but I love Tentacle Jwan Grey and this little two-parter....

    But my fondness probably derives from the spotlight on Banshee & Forge, rather than some unaddressed hentai-tendencies on my part.

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  12. "I remember it was around this period that we were, also, hearing rumblings of a Spider-Man movie in the works. James Cameron's name was, at one point, attached. And that got stuck, for ages, in development hell."

    If I remember correctly, it was dropped largely because Cameron wanted it to be a coming-of-age tale that included such scenes as Peter waking up covered in web fluid (obvious analogy to something else) and wooing Mary Jane with a spider-like mating dance. Everything I heard about it reminded me why I'm not really a fan of James Cameron.

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  13. Was James Cameron attached to doing X-men, Spider-man, or both?

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  14. @Ben: To me the issue with Tentacle Jean is that it's thematically random; the tentacles seem to me to have very little to do with what makes Jean Jean, at least in the pages of X-Men.

    That's a good point. And reading X-Factor doesn't help in that regard.

    Anonymous: Forge claims that Masque can alter the tunnels themselves, an ability he's never shown before or since.

    Huh. I totally missed that. Apparently I was too focused on this whole "timed transformation" Masque does with Callisto, another ability he's never shown before or since.

    @Cerebro: I remember it was around this period that we were, also, hearing rumblings of a Spider-Man movie in the works. James Cameron's name was, at one point, attached. And that got stuck, for ages, in development hell.

    I even think the Spider-Man movie rumblings had been around since the mid 80s, when soon-to-be-defunct Cannon Films bought the film rights from Marvel (and whose eventual demise while holding said rights added to the development hell the movie got stuck in for so long).

    @Teemu: And yet everyone lauds Spider-Man as the proof of superhero flick's commercial potential, and poor Blade doesn't nowadays get even a mention of Ryan Reynolds having been Hannibal King, kind of, in a sequel.

    I think the general idea is that Blade proved a genuinely good movie could be made featuring a Marvel character, and that said movie could be profitable (which, for Marvel at the time, was a pretty big hurdle to overcome). X-Men proved that the effects were at a point where a traditional superhero movie could be done (both creative and cost effectively) and that audiences wouldn't be turned off by overt superpowers and more traditional comic book elements. And then Spider-Man proved that a Marvel comic book movie could be a huge, pop-culture-infusing blockbuster smash, which Blade, while profitable, was not.

    @James: Dont judge me - but I love Tentacle Jwan Grey and this little two-parter....

    No judgement here. I have my own special fondness for plenty of things worse than Tentacle Jean. :)

    @Mela: If I remember correctly, it was dropped largely because Cameron wanted it to be a coming-of-age tale that included such scenes as Peter waking up covered in web fluid (obvious analogy to something else) and wooing Mary Jane with a spider-like mating dance.

    Yeah, I've heard that as well. Which puts it right up there with the "Superman can't fly, wear the traditional costume and must fight a giant robot spider because Jon Peters is obsessed with giant robot spiders" edicts from the aborted late 90s Superman Lives movie as Exhibit A of "It seems really hard for some Hollywood types to grasp the core essence of these characters, for some reason".

    @wwk5d: Was James Cameron attached to doing X-men, Spider-man, or both?

    Officially, I think it was just a Spider-Man movie. Maybe there were rumors of him doing X-Men too, but I don't think it was ever more than rumors, probably spread, in part, by an early installment of Wizard's Casting Call feature in which they cast a potential X-Men movie, with Cameron as their director of choice. That's where stuff like "Arnold as Colossus", "DeNiro as Wolverine" and "Patrick Stewart as Xavier" (the one that actually came true) came from (along with Nicole Kidman as Jean Grey, Clint Eastwood as Cable, and Cameron-staple Michael Biehn as Cyclops, which I honestly think could have worked, at least in 1993).

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  15. Teebore: Maybe there were rumors of him doing X-Men too, but I don't think it was ever more than rumors

    My source for the director and casting choices was the letter column editor of our own local early 90's X-book. Yes, in retrospect he neither may in all likeliness have been in the know in the least, but, by god, I was twelve and in dire need of things to believe in.

    And anyway, you still can't stop me imagining Robert DeNiro impersonating Clint Eastwood at some Hellfire Club commandos in Wolverine costume. Doing it, right now.

    A point well put in words, the one about the Blade flick. Wouldn't exactly describe it as a comic book film, despite the source material. And the again, I so totally would Ghost Rider. So, the popular perception of the era of the nature of the film may come into play there. Blade was before its time, and done in 2004 with next to no alterations would be defined as one. We needst not to go into David Hasselhoff, Agent of SHIELD, do we?

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  16. I wasn’t sure if Forge was just having flashbacks or, y’know, having flashbacks. He was so immersed in his ‘Nam visions — which might have paid off more at the end if Forge meant something to me — that he missed stuff going on directly around him.

    // restored to their normal forms by Forge //

    Even though he was building the thing all throughout the issue, as you say, I got whiplash from the last-page exposition of how Jean and Sean were cured.

    // Forge asks Jean how her telepathic powers are holding up, which seems like a typo given that she talks about telekinesis. //

    I found that weird too, although the idea that when Jean diverts her telekinetic powers from staying upright with those tentacles they go limp and drag her down is interesting if not really consistent with her power set; you could maybe double-talk it away by saying that’s somehow harder because they’re part of her and divert energy from her, like, biologicially. The art is definitely meh at best, however. And whether it’s the tentacles at least partly to blame or not, Jean doesn’t come across as Jean to me in these issues; granted, she’s not really coming across as Jean to me in X-Factor either, but under Claremont the dissonance is more glaring.

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  17. @Blam: And whether it’s the tentacles at least partly to blame or not, Jean doesn’t come across as Jean to me in these issues; granted, she’s not really coming across as Jean to me in X-Factor either, but under Claremont the dissonance is more glaring.

    I think you mean "dissidence". :)

    You're right, though, that Jean in this issue (and the previous) is just sort of *there* not really doing much or acting like her old self.

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  18. I was a major Forge-fan back then, so I did enjoy this storyline, perhaps more than average fans did. Even so, the fill-in art and the Morlocks/Jean Grey thing just really let all this down somehow.

    Debra Levin's dress - I have outfits that show, kind of like that, but the art here just seems really stark, and yes, you wouldn't think it'd be *that* cold in the club. XD "Debra Levin". CC was even more into 'Nth Man' than I was, it seems.

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