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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #277

"Free Charley"
June 1991

In a Nutshell 
Professor X and the X-Men defeat the War Skrulls.

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

Plot
Banshee, Storm and Forge attack the Starjammers, aided by Gambit, who surreptitiously snuck aboard their ship. The X-Men seem to gain the upperhand, but then Skrull Corsair reveals his true form. Meanwhile, Lila and Deathbird arrive at the asteroid base of the War Skrulls, shocked to find Professor X seemingly alive and well. Wolverine attacks Deathbird, but Lila teleports away before Gladiator can grab her, returning moments later with the entire Starjammer. As it crashes into the asteroid, the X-Men emerge, having defeated the Skrulls posing as the Starjammers, and they proceed to attack the other imposters. Though the X-Men manage to defeat most of the Skrulls, they are ultimately felled by the Skrull Xavier's mental powers.


However, the distraction caused and damage done by the X-Men allows the real Professor X to escape, and he pummels the War Skrull both physically and mentally, preventing him from resuming his superior default form. In the wake of their victory, the X-Men are reunited with their mentor, and Professor X learns from Banshee of the looming threat of the Shadow King. Declaring that the Shadow King is the very thing he formed the X-Men to fight, he bids farewell to Lilandra, then returns to Earth along with the X-Men thanks to Lila. Meanwhile, Stevie Hunter is attacked on her way home by Colossus, in the thrall of the Shadow King, who declares that Stevie will guide him through the X-mansion's security systems, or die at Colossus' hands.   

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the end of Chris Claremont's last full story in Uncanny X-Men - he writes the following issue, but then only half of the subsequent one, leaving the series before completing the "Muir Island Saga" (though he does launch the new volume of X-Men before leaving the franchise entirely).

Similarly, this is Jim Lee's last issue as the regular penciler of Uncanny X-Men, as he leaves the series to launch adjectiveless X-Men (a book he'll stay on longer than Claremont, thus extending his with the X-Men, albeit across two different series).

Professor X, the real, non-Skrull one, returns this issue, and is properly reunited with the X-Men, meeting their new members (like Jubilee) for the first time.


The long-simmering Shadow King subplot finally gets moved into first position by the end of the issue, as Banshee (somewhat suddenly) insists they finally have to address Moira's strange behavior NOW, prompting Xavier to read his mind and realize that Moira has been possessed by the Shadow King, prompting Professor X to leave Lilandra in order to help the X-Men against him.


Though she abdicated the throne out of duress, Deathbird willingly allows Lilandra to stay on as the Shi'ar Empress, saying she never really took to ruling, formally putting an end to a reign that stretched back to the first Brood storyline.


Between Xavier returning to Earth and Lilandra staying on as Empress, this marks the end of their sustained time together (which mostly matches up with Deathbird's reign). Though they remain romantically involved and future stories will reference that on occasion, this more or less marks the end of any kind of sustained relationship between the two.

Setting up the "Muir Island Saga" beginning next issue, Stevie Hunter (last seen at the start of "X-Tinction Agenda") and a Shadow King-possessed Colossus (last seen riding off into the sunset, so to speak, with Calliso in issue #264) appear on the final page (this also affords us our first look at Jim Lee's Colossus).


A Work in Progress
Both last issue and this one the X-Men are seen using a variety of high-tech equipment (in true Jim Lee style) said to be created by Forge, though the relative quick passage of time in this story isn't entirely consistent with how his power has been depicted in the past, in which he could invent anything, but it usually took some time.

This issue confirms that Professor X has been telepathically reaching out to Deathbird, using her to have Lila summon the X-Men for help.

Professor X declaring that he attacked the War Skrull both mentally and physically, preventing him from reverting to his larger, stronger form, reads like another instance of Claremont using dialogue to cover-up deficiencies in the art (ie the question of why the Skrull was defeated by being punched by an old, recently-held-captive-for-months human).


Claremontisms
This issue features both Psylocke's "focused totality" and Gambit repeating "Bang, you dead". 

The Best There is at What He Does, Mon Ami
Gambit intervenes on Banshee's behalf, noting that he has yet to learn Banshee's secrets, a possible nod at his one-time intended role as a double agent.


In another (legitimately) kewl Gambit moment, he attacks Gladiator using a full deck of cards.


For Sale
In a somewhat eyebrow raising sign of the times, this issue contains an ad for a "Operation: Desert Storm"-themed RPG.


There's also a teaser ad for The Rocketeer, still one of my favorite comic book movies.


It's in the Mail
This issue's letter column formally announces the upcoming launch of the second X-Men book.

Teebore's Take
The little three part Shi'ar story which began in issue #275 concludes here, in a mostly perfunctory way, with the X-Men ultimately prevailing against the Skrulls (mostly off-panel) and Professor X (the real one, this time) getting to deliver the final blow (which makes for a nice reintroduction to the series). Ultimately though, this is a story that is defined by the circumstances swirling around it: it is Chris Claremont's last full story for Uncanny X-Men, it features the last issue of the series drawn by Jim Lee, and it stands as the only complete Claremont/Lee story featuring this particular iteration of the team - most of their prior collaboration occurred first during the "non-team" era and then was concerned mostly with setting up this team, and by the time the two creators reunite for X-Men (volume 2), they'll have a bigger, different roster to play with. As a result, this story rises above it's somewhat pedestrian trappings, gaining something simply for being the only peek we're ever given at what Claremont and Lee could have done with a more traditional status quo.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, "Kings of Pain" begins in New Mutants Annual #7, and Friday, the Inhumans guest star in X-Factor #67. Next week, New Warriors Annual #1.

Collected Editions

18 comments:

  1. Your comment about Xavier's 'old' makes me wonder. I remember the AMAZING HEROES issue about the X-Men comment that he was no older than thirty when he formed the X-Men (he got his doctorate at 19). Then there is the OHotMU stating that the clone body was younger then his original body (This was in my thoughts when I read the Bob McLeod NM issues which portrayed Xavier as rather ancient. Sal Buscema's following issues- post body transfer- lessened the severity). So I would say he was about late 30s/early 40s.

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    1. Yes, Professor X was supposed to be in his thirties and prematurely bald when he founded the X-Men. I think tying him, for a while, to the Korean war advanced his age a bit but I'm pretty sure he had never been older than 40 by this point.

      Later writers, particularly since the then-60 year-old Patrick Stewart portrayed him in the first X-MEN movie, seem to have aged him up quite a bit. Frank Quitely's version looked like a frail old man! Look at most artists' depictions of Xavier prior to 2000 and, while not young, he rarely looks elderly either. Nobody ever drew him with excessive age lines and he was always depicted as quite fit. I think he was never much older than 40 until Bryan Singer's influence reached the comics.

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    2. The post-gang-mugged Charles Xavier who was dying and nearly getting a heart attack in #200 certainly didn't read like someone in his early 40's. The previous healing process had been artificial though by the over-his-head Morlock Healer so I guess I must listen if someone wants to use that excuse, but the guy who left with the Starjammers then was kind of oldish.

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    3. Yeah, good point. I forgot about that period. Romita and Smith before him both drew an older-looking Xavier.

      I was thinking more about your Lees, Kuberts, Romitas (second run), Madureiras, Bachalos, etc., who pretty much all drew a much younger and spryer-looking Xavier.

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    4. Must be that the Shi'ar air agrees with him, unless we want to put it down to the rejuvenating effect of having a feather-headed girlfriend.

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    5. Xavier's age is one of those things where, intellectually, I know he's only supposed to be thirty-ish at this point, but I can never quite get the image of the bald professor perpetually wearing a blanket over his legs out of my head. And even if that iteration of the character was still meant to be relatively young, his position as a stern authoritarian, couple with that image and the way Lee wrote him makes me perpetually read him as on old man.

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  2. I love "The whole deck!" Probably my favorite Gambit moment.

    "Though she abdicated the throne out of duress, Deathbird willingly allows Lilandra to stay on as the Shi'ar Empress, saying she never really took to ruling, formally putting an end to a reign that stretched back to the first Brood storyline."

    Doesn't Lilandra assign Deathbird as the regent of the Kree Empire after the Shi'ar conquer them in Bob Harras's AVENGERS run? Or am I misremembering? If I'm right, I like that it looked like Harras was furthering Deathbird's redeption arc begun here, though her ruling the Kree would seem to go against her stated desire in this issue to avoid that responsibility.

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    1. Yeah but I too would be like "I didn't want it anyway" when it was made clear to me that really I wasn't gonna get it.

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    2. The whole deck is pretty great. And yeah, as Anna said, Deathbird eventually becomes the Kree regent. Though it probably stands to reason that running that is a much different thing than ruling the whole empire.

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  3. An era ended with this issue. We previously saw Jim Lee's Colossus in a Classic X-Men back-up story, then in Uncanny X-Men 248 and then again in 256.

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    1. Well, uh, #248 was a fill-in, and #256 was a hallucination, so this is Jim Lee's first actual Colossus as the regular penciler!

      Seriously though, yeah, that was one of those things I tossed off right before I published that I should have taken more time to consider whether I was right or not.

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  4. @Matt -Yes, Lilandra made Deathbird the Regent of a shattered Kree at the end of the "Galactic Storm" crossover. I don't know much further than that.

    Yeah, giving "the whole deck" was really a cool moment. I started to warm-up to Gambit in this storyline, but soon lost interest in him as he was presented after Claremont's departure.

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  5. If the "Whole Deck!" isn't Gambit's greatest moment, it's got to be up there. Top Three, at least. The colors are also fantastic in that scene; even more amazing when you think about how poorly comics were often printed back then.

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  6. "prompting Xavier to read his mind and realize that Moira has been possessed by the Shadow King"

    Well, he reads Storm's mind, not Banshee's...

    Also, isn't Storm's dialogue in that first panel somewhat meta?

    "Both last issue and this one the X-Men are seen using a variety of high-tech equipment (in true Jim Lee style) said to be created by Forge, though the relative quick passage of time in this story isn't entirely consistent with how his power has been depicted in the past, in which he could invent anything, but it usually took some time."

    Jim Lee seems to be under the impression that Forge's powers work like magic. He needs to come up with a technological something and "poof!" its there.

    "Professor X declaring that he attacked the War Skrull both mentally and physically"

    Also, for a guy who was probably strung up and help captive for months, he's in pretty good shape. Lee already gave us naked Magneto, so why not naked Xavier?

    "being the only peek we're ever given at what Claremont and Lee could have done with a more traditional status quo"

    I really liked this story, probably more than I feel you did, Teebore. Its a fun, exciting, dynamic story with some really good pacing, sprinkled with lots of great character moments throughout. And this issue in particular has some of the best action sequences in the title's history. It's a good showcase for why Lee was one of the better Image artists; he just has a really good sense of story boarding and he knows how to choreograph a fight sequence really well. Yes, at the end, this is basically an "X-men is space" story, but its done really, really well.

    The ending - Xavier deciding RIGHT THERE he needs to leave back to Earth, with Lilandra basically shrugging her shoulders saying "Yeah, I'm cool with that" - is a bit rushed, but behind the scenes drama dictates Charles needs to be back on Earth asap.

    FYI, after that whole Kree thing, Deathbird ends up later having an almost relationship with Bishop, becomes a Horseman of Apocalypse, then marries Vulcan (which for those keeping track, makes her Cyclops and Havok's sister-in-law, Corsair's daughter-in-law, and Cable and Rachel's aunt) and becomes his widow.

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    1. Also, isn't Storm's dialogue in that first panel somewhat meta?

      Definitely. Seems like Claremont making some excuses/explanations for the last few years of stories.

      I really liked this story, probably more than I feel you did, Teebore.

      I may have undersold my appreciation for it, because I do really like it. First and foremost, I like it for its circumstances, but beyond that, it is a really well-constructed story. Claremont's ability to mix action and characterization, Lee showing off his action skills, all good stuff.

      which for those keeping track, makes her Cyclops and Havok's sister-in-law, Corsair's daughter-in-law, and Cable and Rachel's aunt

      Heh. You know, I remember the whole "Deathbird marries Vulcan" thing, but I never thought of it in those terms before. :)

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  7. I know I am about a year late with this question as this story was resolved in an issue from you reviewed a long time ago, but does anyone know what the purpose was of Claremont turning Storm into a kid?? I know Claremont revisited that story in X-Men Forever with the "Perfect Storm" an "Ghost Panther", but I can't imagine that he would keep the same idea he had for that story for twenty years. If anyone has any idea or know of any interviews where Claremont talks about that I would appreciate it.

    As for this story arc, I understand this is where Claremont lost creative control to Lee and Harras and while it is enjoyable, especially to a young kid, it's sad to see this preview of what would have been the primary characters and concepts of the 90s....Gambit as a traitor, Forge and Banshee on the team, the X-Men wearing team uniforms etc. only used this once.

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  8. I've never read anything specific from Claremont as to what his plans/goals with Kid Storm were, but it certainly fits with his tendency to write body transformations/put characters' minds in other bodies (Psylocke, Ms. Marvel in Rogue, etc.). So it could just be a change he made for the sake of the change, and planned on figuring out the larger plot elements later (and then never really had/got to).

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  9. I had a massive one-sheet for The Rocketeer up in my dorm room. Great image and, yeah, definitely one of the best comics adaptations to film.

    Even though I still have no connection to Gambit, I too really liked the “whole deck” bit — very nice work from Lee and the rest of the creative team adding to what presumably was his idea.

    I agree as well about Claremont needing to put a gloss on Xavier’s swift takedown of his WarSkrull doppelganger. Still hard to swallow given how physically and mentally enervated he must have been. Maybe Sikorsky put a little something extra in that clone body.

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