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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #276

"Double Death"
May 1991

In a Nutshell 
Wolverine kills Professor X, who turns out to be a Skrull in disguise. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Gambit and Jubilee watch from hiding as Professor X oversees Gladiator's torture of the captive Deathbird. Urged into action, Gambit attacks, much to Jubilee's dismay, and in the ensuing fight, a captive Lila Cheney is revealed. Freed from her power dampening manacles, she teleports away with Deathbird, reluctantly abandoning the X-Men, after which Gambit triggers an explosion that attracts the attention of the rest of the X-Men and Starjammers. Investigating, Wolverine finds something in the rubble that confirms his suspicions. He leaps at Professor X and kills him, only to be taken down by Psylocke's psychic knife. Just then, Lila and Deathbird return, teleporting away with the rest of the X-Men save Psylocke and Wolverine, as well as the missing Jubilee and Gambit. In the wake of their departure, the Shi'ar Chancellor sends the Starjammers after the X-Men, while the X-Men arrive on the homeworld of the P!ndyr.


Deathbird explains that every living being on the planet was slaughtered on Xavier's orders, and that similar massacres have been carried out all over the empire, which is why she sent Lila to bring the X-Men to her. Banshee is reluctant to believe her, but Storm, realizing some of Xavier's recent actions don't add up, is more inclined to trust her. Just then, the Starjammers arrive in orbit, and the X-Men prepare to attack, but Deathbird, feeling a telepathic pull, forces Lila to teleport her away again, leaving Forge, Banshee and Storm alone to face the Starjammers. Back at the Imperial Palace, the captive Wolverine and Jubilee are added to the breeding stock of the Warskrulls, who have replaced several key figures, including Psylocke and the deceased Xavier. Their leader undergoes a painful transformation to become a new Xavier, thus maintaining the Skrulls' control over Lilandra and her empire. But the real Xavier declares that while he may be a prisoner, he is far from beaten. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue reveals that Professor X, as well Oracle of the Imperial Guard and Psylocke have been captured and replaced by shape-shifting Skrulls (called Warskrulls next issue, to differentiate them from regular Skrulls who, at this point in time, have lost the ability to shapeshift and could never, under normal circumstances, replicate powers as well as other physical forms), with SkrullXavier using his telepathic powers to enslave the rest of the Imperial Guard, Starjammers and Lilandra.


As such, it marks the first actual appearance of Professor X, and not just his Skrull doppelganger, in X-Men since issue #203. 

Deathbird experiences a buzzing in her head towards the end of this issue, leading her and Lila to abandoning the X-Men; next issue reveals this is the real Professor X, reaching out to her telepathically.

A Work in Progress
Gladiator rips out Deathbird's wings this issue, eliminating her ability to fly, though I have no idea offhand if that's a permanent change or not.


Deathbird claims she is "nearly as strong" as Gladiator; given that Gladiator is generally considered a rough analog to Superman, that seems inconsistent with Deathbird's previously established power level. She also says that she taught Gladiator how to fight, something I don't believe was established previously.


This issue confirms that it was SkrullXavier who defeated the P!yndr champion in issue #265, which led to the decimation of their planet (and other worlds as well).


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Deathbird and Lila show up at the end of the issue, delcaring themselves to be two bad, beautiful babes with really big guns, which is pretty much the 90s in one panel.


Claremontisms
Psylocke reminds us again that her psychic knife if the focused totality of her psychic powers.


Artistic Achievements
The panel of Wolverine killing SkrullXavier is classic Lee, and, like John Byrne before him, shows that Lee draws a great Hairy Wolverine.


The Best There is at What He Does, Mon Ami
SkrullXavier says that Gambit's thoughts are like quicksilver (little q), making it difficult to read his min.


For Sale
I'm pretty sure I bought and ate this cereal around this time. 


Teebore's Take
In addition to effectively functioning as the middle chapter of this three part space story (which is, really, the only story Claremont and Lee tell featuring a fully assembled and uniformed team of X-Men), revealing the real villains behind the plot and setting up next issue's finale, this issue does a great job in its opening pages of spotlighting the two newest members of the team: Gambit and Jubilee. The latter has been a presence in the book for some time (despite only recently becoming a member technically), but has mostly only interacted with Wolverine & Psylocke, while for the former, aside from his big lock picking moment in issue #272, this really serves as Gambit's first spotlight since his introduction.

It's the first time we've seen the character really functioning as an X-Man, and it's easy to see why he gained such a strong following so quickly, from his banter with Jubilee to his visually exciting power (depicted here more or less as we traditionally think of it, as opposed to his earlier appearances, though still without the playing cards). Even the moment when he intervenes on Deathbird's behalf seems like a subtle shift for the character, as he acts heroically and against his own self-interests (even while he disparages himself for doing so) despite the risk to himself. It's entirely possible this is the moment where Claremont began to rethink his plans to make Gambit an undercover villain (if he indeed ever did rethink that plan), as the action seems out-of-character for someone just biding his time to destroy the team from within. Regardless, it's a reminder that. even here, in the twilight of his decades-long run on the series (and most likely awash with bitterness over his current situation), Claremont still excels at weaving together action and characterization, and that it's a shame we didn't get more of the Claremont/Lee collaboration. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we look back on the series that was New Mutants. Friday, stuff blows up in X-Factor #66. Next week, New Warriors #9-10. 

Collected Editions

30 comments:

  1. I always liked the scene where Storm, Forge, and Banshee explore the carnage of the P!yndr homeworld, with Forge repeating Wolverine's MARVEL FANFARE dialogue of why things like this don't happen more often, noting the alien child and her doll. I also liked the dimension they gave to Deathbird. She may be evil, but she knew being a Majestrix meant major responsibilities to the welfare of her subjects (Maybe that's why she hated the job).

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    1. I always liked the scene where Storm, Forge, and Banshee explore the carnage of the P!yndr homeworld

      Me too. It's another example of how effective Claremont is at slipping in characterization amongst plot beats.

      She may be evil, but she knew being a Majestrix meant major responsibilities to the welfare of her subjects (Maybe that's why she hated the job).

      Yeah, that's an idea that gets followed up on in the next issue, when she basically agrees to let Lilandra rule cuz she doesn't like the job.

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  2. Carol Danvers/ Binary is also shown here as a captive of the Warskrulls. So why did the X-Men not release her with the others, and what was her immediate fate at the end of the story? A missed opportunity for Secret Invasion that they didn't reveal the Carol we'd known after Uncanny X-Men #278 had been a Skrull-plant and they'd returned to the Empire with the real one:(

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    1. Is Carol trapped in the technic-organic web? At least in this issue, it seemed unclear if the Starjammers were Warskrulls or just telepathic thralls of the Xavier Warskrull; it certainly didn't look like there were all that many people in the "web".

      That said, an entire book could be written about all the opportunities for house cleaning "Secret Invasion" provided that Marvel failed to take advantage of. :)

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    2. Its hard to say for sure whether that is Carol or not. The halo/corona effect isn't quite what we have usually seen with Binary in the past, and while Jubilee's exposition of that person as a "round-eyed blondie" is somewhat accurate, I doubt CC would have passed on the chance to have a reunion scene between Carol and the X-men. Even as quick as the reunion scene with Real Xavier and Real Starjammers is next issue, I'm sure he would have had Lee include Carol somehow. Ah well. It would have been better to have her absence or status explained, but it isn't a huge drag on the story.

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  3. Jubilee and Gambit take a Hail Mary pass using their powers together to cause the big explosion that alerts the X-Men, which I assumed let them get away. We later see, from behind, a yellow-gloved hand atop playing cards overlooking the Starjammers' discussion on the bridge as they arrive at P!ndyr — a dainty hand to be sure (with an elongated broken pinky) but still presumably intended to be Gambit’s. Yet Jubilee then turns up in the custody of mentally controlled Psylocke and Guardian, stripped to her birthday suit, on the very next page.

    // Storm, realizing some of Xavier's recent actions don't add up //

    Plus there’s the actual evidence, as she recounts, of Wolverine finding Jubilee’s earring in the wreckage of the fight after “Xavier” backed up Gladiator’s assertion that Jubilee and Gambit hadn’t been there.

    // Deathbird and Lila show up at the end of the issue, delcaring themselves to be two bad, beautiful babes with really big guns //

    The pose I can buy. Jubilee’s quip I can buy. Deathbird smiling a happy, check-me-out smile I can’t buy.

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    1. Next issue will clarify the fate of Gambit - I believe the idea is that he escaped in the wake of the explosion, while Jubilee did not.

      Plus there’s the actual evidence, as she recounts, of Wolverine finding Jubilee’s earring in the wreckage of the fight after “Xavier” backed up Gladiator’s assertion that Jubilee and Gambit hadn’t been there.

      Yeah, the "recent action" I was alluding to was the fact that Xavier agreed Jubilee hadn't been there even though Wolverine found her earring. I left that out of the plot summary for the sake of brevity, but it was probably worth pointing out that Storm's inclination to side with Deathbird is based on more than hunch.

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  4. I understand the "beautiful babes with really big guns" was scripted as very in-your-face commentary by Claremont of the current direction the comic books were going towards.

    The main reason I intensely dislike this story is: "Warskrulls". Warskrulls? What the infiltration gang in FF #2 was then, Happyhappyjoyjoy-Skrulls? Or them in the classic Kree-Skrull War? They had even the really pumped up one, Super-Skrull, who you can see means business because he was quite harsh-looking as the skrulls go. They so do not need this visual upgrade to some third-tier orcs or any other upgrade for that matter.

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    1. Ahh....that's the issue? In that case, I guess I just didn't care. Being mainly an X-fan, my interest in Skrulls of any type was pretty minimal. They could be used however the writer liked--they simply didn't rate highly enough for me to particularly care one way or the other.

      Also, as noted here, the fact that this was the first time Lee (with Claremont) had a full team to focus on is something I hadn't considered, but likely helped elevate the story for me.

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    2. Yep, pretty much. Sorry I didn't live up to my hype. :)

      Well, there's also that that it's just too nineties for an Uncanny space adventure, and that I can't like the exercise of Claremont putting the toys back to the box and bringing back Prof. Xavier who I've heard from dependable sources is a jerk. Xavier was a broken frail old man when the Starjammers took him with them in #200 right when I started reading, and this Jim Lee action hero type here is... just wrong.

      Plus, the Skrulls. I think Byrne did fine things with the classic kind of Skrulls on his FF run, and Claremont joining in messing them up like this kind of reminds me, in bad way, of the tug of war he and Byrne had post-C/B X-Men. Especially when compared to the gracefullness of Byrne making Gladiator totally his on his FF (granted, Lilandra maybe less). Bringing up WARskrulls kind of suggests there was something wrong in the muscle-lacking ridiculously dressing totally humorless and occasionally magnamious Skrulls. There wasn't. Skrulls rock.

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    3. Teemu -- I agree on the Warskrulls. They like a halfway point between normal Skrulls and Super-Skrull. I'm not really sure what their point is. I guess they're supposed to represent the Skrulls' warrior caste or something? But I never found them particularly interesting or necessary.

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    4. Eh, I have a hard time getting too worked up over the Warskrulls. Just cuz a classic bit of Marvel lore gets a tweak or an update in a story doesn't automatically make that story bad for me.

      @Teemu: They so do not need this visual upgrade to some third-tier orcs or any other upgrade for that matter.

      Well, they need it insofar as regular Skrulls can't mimic powers, and the ability to mimic Xavier's power is kind of the crux of the story. If Claremont was just using regular Skrulls, then the story wouldn't work. I suppose he could have just created a new alien race or something, but again, the history between the Skrulls and the Shi'ar is part of the story too, that wouldn't work with just some new random race.

      @John: Also, as noted here, the fact that this was the first time Lee (with Claremont) had a full team to focus on is something I hadn't considered, but likely helped elevate the story for me.

      Yeah, that's always been the thing that makes this story standout for me. I mean, on its own merits, its perfectly cromulent; not great, not terrible. But it gains a little something just for being pretty much the only outing for the post-X-Tinction Agenda iteration of the team.



      @Teemu

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    5. You could even say the story was embiggened.
      When are the Simpsons reviews coming back? X-Men comics and the Simpsons, my two favorite entertainments, Love the site.
      Thank you for the work you put into it!

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    6. @Anonymous: When are the Simpsons reviews coming back?

      Soon, hopefully, though I don't yet have a concrete date in mind. I'm trying to find a way to work them back into my writing routine, and I want to get at least a few completed before I go live with the first one.

      Knowing people out there are looking for them definitely motivates me to get back to it sooner rather than later though!

      Love the site. Thank you for the work you put into it!

      And thanks!

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  5. >>Psylocke reminds us again that her psychic knife if the focused totality of her psychic powers.<<

    And that's where the title of my blog comes from and it doesn't even focus on any X-men titles.

    And there is another Claremont kink ..err thing, that crops up in this issue. Having the female characters naked and or strung up in something.
    Not dubious at all !!

    >>The main reason I intensely dislike this story is: "Warskrulls". Warskrulls? What the infiltration gang in FF #2 was then, Happyhappyjoyjoy-Skrulls? Or them in the classic Kree-Skrull War?<<

    Can't say I really mind the Warskrulls. The name is a bit silly, but the Skrulls lost their shape shifting powers at this point. And they were never able to copy powers wholesale. (Or using them from the original "donors" hooked in the tentacle nexus.)
    So in context they make sense.

    >>Carol Danvers/ Binary is also shown here as a captive of the Warskrulls. So why did the X-Men not release her with the others, and what was her immediate fate at the end of the story? A missed opportunity for Secret Invasion that they didn't reveal the Carol we'd known after Uncanny X-Men #278 had been a Skrull-plant and they'd returned to the Empire with the real one:(<<

    That's a bit too continuity heavy for Marvel these days, where continuity is a dirty word and has become baggage.

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    1. "Having the female characters naked and or strung up in something."

      To be fair, we also have "naked and or strung up in something" Xavier and Wolverine this issue.

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    2. Wolverine is naked half the time.

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    3. Jubilee, though, is paraded around for humiliation (from the antagonists’ perspective) / titillation (from the creators’, one presumes, which is especially problematic given her age).

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  6. // Gladiator rips out Deathbird's wings this issue, eliminating her ability to fly, though I have no idea offhand if that's a permanent change or not. //

    The short answer seems to be “not”. I haven’t read a story where she gets them back — don’t even know if it happens on-panel — but in verifying that the incarnation of Deathbird that I recalled seeing in (speaking of Binary) the first Carol Danvers Captain Marvel series is not in fact the real deal I came across a pic of said real deal, with her wings, cozied up to Vulcan some 200 issues later in Uncanny itself.

    And yeah, I couldn’t believe her remark about being nearly as strong as Gladiator either. He doesn’t really have the Silver Age Superman’s power level, granted; even if he’s only in, say, Namor or Thing’s league, however, that easily trumps what I figure is her being at the level of, like, Spider-Man.

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    1. As it happens, I recently read FANTASTIC FOUR 250 for my just-begun project to cover John Byrne's FF run, and there Gladiator is presented as considerably stronger than the Thing. He's probably more at the Hulk's level -- or stronger -- based on how handily he takes out poor Ben. Certainly Deathbird is nowhere near that powerful.

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    2. From what I recall from various Marvel Universe pages, Spiderman can lift around 10 ton,
      The Thing 100 ton and the hulk ?
      Bah,Hulk strongest there is !!!

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    3. The short answer seems to be “not”.

      This does not surprise me. :)

      At the very least, I should have remembered her appearances with Vulcan.

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  7. Claremont sure likes his Warskrulls. He created them here and he used them again over a decade later in X-MEN: THE END. But like Nimrod, I don't think anybody else ever picked up on the guys.

    Does anyone know when exactly the Skrulls regained their shapeshifting powers? I know when they lost them, in the FF/AVENGERS crossover annuals from 1985 or so... but I've never heard of what story brought it back. Though I did recently learn while re-reading "The Evolutionary War" that in the 1988 SILVER SURFER annual, the Surfer tells Super-Skrull he might hold the key to restoring the ability since he was not in our plane when all the other Skrulls lost it.

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    1. The Skrulls had already regained their shape shifting abilities at this point, during the 2nd Kree/Skrull war. Silver Surfer #25-31 in 1989. Super Skrull was the key.

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    2. @Matt: They key to them regaining their abilities was Super Skrull's tampering by the Eternals in Silver Surfer Annual #1 which Claremont had obviously read by this stage and ran with:)

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    3. Thanks, guys! I've actually wondered about this for years.

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    4. Claremont seems to like the Skrulls in general - they factor in to the later "Twelve" story to a surprisingly-significant degree, then come back for "Maximum Security".

      Thanks for the rundown on the Skrull shapeshifting restoration as well - I knew it came about in part thanks to Silver Surfer and the Super-Skrull, but didn't realize it had already happened by the time this story was on the stands (I always thought it came later).

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  8. "Deathbird claims she is "nearly as strong" as Gladiator; given that Gladiator is generally considered a rough analog to Superman, that seems inconsistent with Deathbird's previously established power level."

    Well, we know CC occasionally had to use his dialogue to cover some of Lee's questionable artistic decisions. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. This is one of those times where it isn't quite as successful. Another example of something similar is in X-men #1, where Psylocke makes a similar comment during a danger room session.

    "Psylocke reminds us again that her psychic knife if the focused totality of her psychic powers."

    And good to know Forge designed the new uniforms in a sexy-thong-pattern as well.

    "SkrullXavier says that Gambit's thoughts are like quicksilver (little q), making it difficult to read his min."

    Telepaths saying thoughts are like quicksilver is *almost* a Claremontism. I know Psylocke has said it a couple of times in the past.

    "It's entirely possible this is the moment where Claremont began to rethink his plans to make Gambit an undercover villain"

    It's possible, sure, or at the very least, keep him as undercover villain, but also plant seeds for a possible redemption arc, either before he betrays the team or during (ie, turning on Sinister at the last possible moment). Of course, given his comments next issue about secrets he has yet to learn about Banshee, his status is still rather ambiguous. One of the CC's more interesting dropped plot points.

    Of course, his aiding the X-men could also fall under self-preservation, since he at least has a chance of getting back home to Earth with them, as opposed to be being assimilated/killed by the Warskrulls.

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    1. Well, we know CC occasionally had to use his dialogue to cover some of Lee's questionable artistic decisions. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

      Oh yeah, that definitely smacked of "dialogue meant to explain the art", since Lee's got Deathbird cold-cocking Gladiator taking up 3/4 of the page.

      Telepaths saying thoughts are like quicksilver is *almost* a Claremontism. I know Psylocke has said it a couple of times in the past.

      Almost, though I don't think it's quite ubiquitous enough (or used exclusively by Claremont enough) to qualify.

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    2. Gladiator certainly doesn't come out looking good from this story, with being a thrall to Skrulls and getting wiped the floor by Deathbird.

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