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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #278

"The Battle of Muir Isle"
July 1991

In a Nutshell
The X-Men launch their attack on Muir Island.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Guest Penciler: Paul Smith
Inker: Hilary Barta
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As the Shadow King gloats to Lian Shen about the level of hate & discord in the world empowering him, Professor X breaks into a WHO base and steals back the Blackbird from Excalibur. Meanwhile, on Muir Island, new arrivals Rogue and Guido fight in the arena, Moira's version of the Danger Room, and Rogue is stunned by how bloodthirsty both herself and the other residents have become. Not far away, Xavier meets with the X-Men, and they plan their next move. On Muir Island, Rogue is fully overwhelmed by the Shadow King, just as the X-Men launch their assault on the island. However, all but Forge are quickly attacked by one of the island's residents. Meanwhile, Professor X arrives on the grounds of the X-Mansion, hoping to use Cerebro to locate the presumed-dead X-Factor and locate the Shadow King. Just then, an out-of-control car careens down the drive, with the driver leaping free just before it crashes. As Xavier tends to the driver, Stevie Hunter, the Shadow King appears, projecting an image of the defeated X-Men just as the enthralled Colossus emerges from the fiery wreckage of the car.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Chris Claremont's last full issue of Uncanny X-Men; he does about half of the next issue, and of course writes the first three issues of X-Men (vol. 2) before leaving the franchise entirely (I think, but I'm not entirely sure, he was officially already gone by the time this issue was on stands, with his work on #279 and X-Men #1-3 completed before this issue was printed). This marks the end of an impressive, unprecedented run of issues continuously written by Claremont stretching back to issue #94.

This issue kicks off the "Muir Island Saga" (a clear, if overreaching, reference to "The Dark Phoenix Saga", a title taken from its placement on the top right corner of the cover for each issue in the storyline. It runs through issue #280 of this series, as well as X-Factor #69 and #70, and effectively serves to close off the current iterations of the X-Men and X-Factor (and specifically end the long-running Shadow King subplot) and transition the series into the linewide relaunch that sees the debut of a second X-Men title and a revamped X-Factor (alongside the soon-to-debut X-Force).

Of course, the "Muir Island Saga" as presented is vastly different from how Claremont initially envisioned it, stitched together from leftover of "Mutant Wars" unused by "X-Tinction Agenda" and bringing to an end the Shadow King subplot where Claremont originally intended to merely move it to its second phase, not resolving it entirely until issue #300. A fairly thorough accounting of what might have been can be found here and here.

Both Rogue (last seen in the Savage Land in issue #275) and Guido (last seen abandoned by Lila in issue #274) are on Muir Island now, with Rogue the more recent arrival and both having been more or less inextricably drawn there, with nowhere else to go (we, of course, know this is because of the Shadow King's influence). Keep an eye on Rogue's costume; costume consistency is not one of this storyline's strong suits.


Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are both still on the island as well, though they mention bringing Guido to the Morlock Healer, despite the Healer having died during the Reavers assault on the island in issues #254-255.


Amanda Sefton is on-hand as well, despite having not appeared with the Islanders during "Kings of Pain". However, likely thanks to the shift in writers next issue, she disappears from this story after this issue, without explanation; she next appears in Excalibur #75. Given that Fabian Nicieza wrote "Kings" and takes over from Claremont next issue, perhaps he doesn't like (or doesn't know about) the character.


Similarly, when Professor X experiences a worldwide static field inhibiting his telepathy in all but the shortest distances, he attributes it to the doings of the Shadow King (the Shadow King really shouldn't be able to do that, but maybe it's a more general "he's influencing the darkness in more and more people and that's causing the static" kind of thing), but later in the story, Polaris will be credited with causing the static.

Wolverine battles a Shadow King-controller Rogue, and though it mostly goes unremarked on, this is the first interaction between those two characters since just after "Inferno". Banshee and Siryn are seen interacting with one another on-panel for the first time since there first meeting, all the way back in X-Men #148.


Banshee notes that Moira's odd behavior started when Lorna first showed up on Muir Island (in issue #253) but got worse after Lorna disappeared - in the first case, Lorna's new "absorb negative energy to get stronger but make people go nuts around me powers" are to blame, while things getting worse later is caused by the possession of Legion by the Shadow King, who captured Lorna because she was immune to his power.


A Work in Progress
Lian Shen, the doctor whom the Shadow King enthralled whilst chasing Kid Storm in Cairo, Illinois and who was at his side during Gambit's debut, pops up in this issue, still his servant/aide-de-camp.

The headquarters of WHO, previously shown to be inside the Tower of London in Excalibur, is here said to be a far more pedestrian air force base.


Professor X wears the Shi'ar Warlord armor worn by his Skrull counterpart while stealing back the Blackbird that Excalibur took for themselves after "Inferno" in Excalibur #8, a nice touch of continuity.


Excalibur is said to be gone (presumably, this is taking place while they're in Limbo during "The Promethium Exchange") and X-Factor presumed dead (as a result of Ship blowing up in X-Factor #66), though Professor X rightly points out that the world once thought much the same about the X-Men.


Forge uses the backdoor he built into the Muir Island security system, at Banshee's request, in issue #257, to get the X-Men onto the island undetected. He remains the one X-Men still free by the end of the issue.

Claremontisms
Rogue declares that Guido is "nigh-invulnerable".

Shadow King declares that Colossus is now "mine, body and soul".

Young Love
Forge mentions that he'd like to go flying with Storm sometime, the first acknowledgement (albeit a minor one) of their relationship/feelings for one another since Forge succeeded in his initial mission of finding her.

For Sale
The front cover ad is for the first (and only, I believe) set of G.I. Joe trading cards; I picked up a wax box of packs deeply discounted a year or two after their initial release and managed to assemble a full set; they're actually a really well-designed set of cards, with some great artwork in places.

It's in the Mail
The letter column in this issue runs a message detailing the upcoming shakeup and the issues involved in the "Muir Island Saga". Of note, Peter David and Larry Stroman are (correctly) announced as the new creative team on X-Factor (so Erik Larsen at this point is out) and Chris Claremont is (wrongly) still said to be writing Uncanny with issue #281, suggesting that maybe he hadn't quit yet (or quit after this editorial went to press). Also, both X-Force and Wolverine are hyped as well, but poor languishing Excalibur gets nary a mention.

Teebore's Take
On the whole, the "Muir Island Saga" is a bit of a mess, suffering from sloppy plotting and issue-to-issue continuity, the result of it being a story intended to transition an entire franchise of books from one status quo to another at the same time that a major creative transition is taking place in that franchise. But most of those problems rear their ugly head starting in the next chapter; this one is, suitably, all setup: bringing Xavier and the X-Men back to Earth and giving each a specific mission, bringing the Shadow King and his control of Muir Isle back to the foreground and ramping up his threat to a global scale, and establishing that both Rogue and Guido (two characters destined for larger roles in the franchise post-storyline) have joined the cast of diffuse X-characters hanging out with Moira, essentially awaiting their new series assignments.

Not surprisingly, given its role as a transitional story, all three Uncanny chapters of this story feature fill-in art. With Jim Lee off to greener, adjectiveless pastures, Paul Smith returns for this issue, and whether it's the absence of Wiacek's inks, the result of being a last minute fill-in, or just the passage of time (or something else entirely) his work is definitely lacking something from his earlier run on the title: everything seems zoomed out to roughly medium depth in every panel, making the action easy to follow but also not terribly exciting or dynamic. There are flashes of his old style in some of the figure work (especially his Wolverine, who looks very much like Smith's classic Wolverine) and his animation influences can be seen in some of the fight scenes, but overall it lacks the energy of Lee's previous issues as well as the energy and overall polish of Smith's earlier work.

Similarly, this issue represents some of the most workmanlike writing of Claremont's tenure; he still manages to work in a few Claremontian character beats, things like Banshee & Siryn fighting each other or Jubilee's excitement at flying, but for the most part, this issue is all plot mechanics, moving pieces into place for the next chapter of the story, with little concern for theme, symbolism or characterization. Perhaps had Claremont hung on to finish out the story himself, this would be less egregious in hindsight, but as it is, it's a relatively soulless final issue for the man who made the X-Men into what they are (including the soon-to-be highest-selling comic book characters of all time). Thankfully, his final, ultimate departure from the characters will be somewhat more resonant.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, "The Promethium Exchange" ends in Excalibur #39. Friday, the fate of Cyclops' son is revealed in X-Factor #68. Next week, another crappy (I mean, probably, right?) Excalibur oneshot, Possession.

Collected Editions

17 comments:

  1. Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are both still on the island as well, though they mention bringing Guido to the Morlock Healer, despite the Healer having died during the Reavers assault on the island in issues #254-255.

    Apparently he got better because he'll be there when Callisto turns back to herself from the model girl she was.

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    1. Yeah, I don't know why Teebore thinks that the Healer died in issues 254-255. We see him in issue 254, healing Banshee. And then we don't see him at all for the rest of the story. There's no reason to assume that he was dead as opposed to hiding from the Reavers.

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    2. Looking back, I guess I'm not sure why I thought the Healer was dead either. I may have been misconstruing the mixup between Banshee being healed in MCP and being healed by the Healer in #254 with a mixup in the Healer's survival. Either way, yeah, there's no reason to think he's dead, especially since he'll show up again later in the next Morlock story.

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  2. The Muir Island Saga is not very good but the fact that it's a bit of a parade of Claremont characters (Stevie Hunter! Amanda Sefton! Tom and Sharon!) makes it a more fitting ending to his tenure than it should be based on the weakness of the story.

    The Paul Smith art should also lend it more weight but Paul Smith is clearly not himself here. I would never have identified it as him without seeing the credits.

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    1. I do like the parade of Claremont characters - it's one of the pluses in this story's favor (it's also one of the things I like about "Kings of Pain").

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  3. "Of course, the "Muir Island Saga" as presented is vastly different from how Claremont initially envisioned it, stitched together from leftover of "Mutant Wars" unused by "X-Tinction Agenda" and bringing to an end the Shadow King subplot where Claremont originally intended to merely move it to its second phase, not resolving it entirely until issue #300"

    Honestly, the BTS drama going on at the X-offices at the time seems far more entertaining that what was being published at the time, even though both were huge messes.

    CC's original plans also seem much more interesting that we ended up with, but then again, the bar is set rather low.

    "Keep an eye on Rogue's costume; costume consistency is not one of this storyline's strong suits."

    It could almost be a drinking game. And not just Rogue, but some others as well. Also, as we see with Amanda Sefton, characters appear and disappear as well.

    Speaking of Amanda, her disappearance is strange, given how Nicieza was allegedly up to date on his X-men history till now, no?

    "this is the first interaction between those two characters since just after "Inferno""

    No reaction from Wolverine that she is alive? That's another casualty of this crossover...characters who should have some investment in finding out they're all alive gets shoved aside to keep the plot moving, which is very disappointing (except for a few scenes in X-factor #70, which really is the best issue in this crossover).

    "Banshee notes that Moira's odd behavior started when Lorna first showed up on Muir Island (in issue #253) but got worse after Lorna disappeared"

    Much like his searching for the rest of the X-men, he doesn't really seem to give a crap that she was missing till now. And never bothered trying to find her either. And this guy worked for Interpol? Yikes, if you're on an X-team and you disappear, pray they never send Sean to try and find you.

    "and X-Factor presumed dead (as a result of Ship blowing up in X-Factor #66)"

    Which makes for an interesting timeline. I wonder how much time this crossover takes place over? Xavier has enough time to fly to the US, deal with Colossus, meet the US government, while simultaneously X-factor finish their adventure on the moon, return home, "isolate" themselves, get contacted by the US government, etc...and during all of this time, Forge is being hunted by everyone on Muir Island while Storm is "recovering". And why the hell am I spending so much time thinking about this when clearly nobody at Marvel was at the time?

    Yes, this "Sage" is a mess. This issue is decent, the epilogue issue is really good, and...that's all you can say. What a waste, of long term plotting, and CC's final story.

    Paul Smith isn't at his best here, but honestly, this is probably one of the better looking fill-in issues we've had a while on this title. I mean, we could have had Bill Jaaska instead ;)

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    1. Wait, should Wolverine have a reaction to Rogue being alive? Logan split in issue 246, and Rogue "died" in 247. Who would have told him that she was presumed dead?

      I suppose maybe Psylocke might have told him ... ? But she had a psychic vision in issue 256 that suggested Rogue might have survived ...

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    2. Speaking of Amanda, her disappearance is strange, given how Nicieza was allegedly up to date on his X-men history till now, no?

      Yeah, Nicieza definitely seems to have a pretty good grasp on X-history at this point, so it seems odd that he'd drop the ball with Amanda.

      Yikes, if you're on an X-team and you disappear, pray they never send Sean to try and find you.

      Ha!

      And why the hell am I spending so much time thinking about this when clearly nobody at Marvel was at the time?

      Heh. FWIW, I've always read it the X-FACTOR story as being done by the time this issue starts. Like, the X-Factor has been isolated for a little bit once this starts.

      Which still doesn't account for the fact that Xavier goes home, fights Colossus, finds X-Factor and comes back, all while basically an afternoon passes on Muir Island.

      I mean, we could have had Bill Jaaska instead ;)

      Bite your tongue! :)

      Yeah, Smith here just pales in comparison to his earlier work on the title. Relative to the fill-in work we've seen of late, it's light years better.

      @Jason: I'd think Psylocke would have filled in Wolverine on the whole Siege Perilous/Master Mold battle, even if she still had reason to believe Rogue was alive (she probably would have told him both). Then again, given the state of her mind post-transformation, it's possible she didn't.

      Either way, the lack of reaction is probably less egregious than if Wolverine had been present for Rogue's apparent death, and/or not cutoff from the rest of the X-Men for so long after it happened.

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    3. Psylocke did tell Wolverine that it was her fault the rest of the X-men went through Siege Perilous, and also mentions it might have been better had she let the Reavers kill Havok. So I'm fanwanking her memories should be pretty clear. So if not Logan expressing...something that Rogue is alive, at least something that she made it through the Siege Perilous.

      Then again, neither seemed to show any reaction to Storm being alive, and the last Psylocke saw of HER was that was "dead".

      One thing I missed: you know it's a Paul Smith issue when he throws in tons of extra mutants in background scenes. Why are so many people watching Rogue and Guido fight? Who are all these people? I guess you can say they're the Morlocks who survived and recuperated on Muir Island, but like Siryn, they just disappear after this issue...forever. And it looks like Sunder is there, even though he should be dead.

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    4. I think Claremont really quit because of Smith drawing way too many Morlocks in there, again. :)

      Rogue's being alive shouldn't be too big a surprise after at least two of the other Siege Perilii have already been seen returned by Logan. He took it upon himself to put the X-Men back together, which would be a bit useless cause if he believed most of them weren't around.

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    5. Yeah, but Rogue wasn't in Psylocke's group. Ok, ok, it also the Siege Perilous and whatnot...but the fact that all these people just shrug off seeing each other after all this time and after everything that happened is a bit disappointing.

      At least we get to see Rogue and Mystique have it out in X-factor #70.

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  4. I agree, Smith doesn't quite live up to the standard he originally set. Same thing happens when he returns for a couple issues of Fabian Nicieza's X-MEN just after "Age of Apocalypse". His faces still look pretty good and his characters' body language when they're not fighting mostly looks fine. It's mainly just his action scenes which I think have deteriorated. The sequence you posted of hunchback Wolverine running through the hallway and then jumping at Rogue like a marionette is just awful.

    I just noticed Tom Orzechowski is italicizing "Blackbird" as if it's the plane's proper name. I always thought it was a general nickname for an SR-71 which the X-Men used in the same way you might call a tissue a Kleenex. Weird.

    Too bad we couldn't get Excalibur in on this thing somehow. Not that the story needs more characters, but it's all taking place in their own backyard! Would've been nice to see a reunion with Nightcrawler and Kitty, but given how other reunions are glossed over here, it's probably for the best we didn't have them involved.

    I had several of those G.I. Joe cards, and I agree it was a nice set. I don't know who wrote the copy, but I found it interesting that the set was clearly based on the Marvel continuity, yet they still had to work in things which had never appeared in the comics. My favorite one was the Cobra hypnotist, Crystal Ball, who Larry Hama (wisely) never used. His card unceremoniously says he was killed during an avalanche in Cobra-La (which Hama also ignored for good reason).

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    1. The X-Men (and Claremont) certainly use the Blackbird like it's the name of their specific unique one, despite it (also) being the official nickname for SR-71. The plane gots a proper name alright, they just were crappy in coming up with one. Always "the Blackbird" when referred, almost never "the plane" or other generic word. It's even a character in Kitty's fairy tale in #153.

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    2. And they did even translate the name to Finnish in our book, which they didn't do for half the characters. And I'm fairly certain that on occasions when Claremont was doing an airplane porn bit about the capabilities of "SR-71 Blackbird" they left it to the original English form, but when referring to X-Men's plane specifically it was always translated.

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    3. As Teemu said, "Blackbird" seems to have been consistently used as a singular name, even though it's also a generic term for that type of plane used outside of the X-Men.

      His card unceremoniously says he was killed during an avalanche in Cobra-La (which Hama also ignored for good reason).

      "Cobra-La lalalalalalala!"

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  5. Sad to say, but by this time, if Jim Lee wasn't drawing the issue, I wasn't terribly interested in it. THIS was Paul Smith? Yeesh. I loved his original run, but this is pretty bad. Then again, the lackluster writing may have had something to do with my interest (or lack thereof). I had no idea this was Claremont's last full issue--and had no idea at the time that his time with the series was nearly over.

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  6. I agree that it’s not at the level of Smith’s ‘80s work as inked by Wiacek, but the art is still a far sight better in my eyes than his X-Factor run — the covers as well as the interiors as finished or inked by Milgrom. And he was certainly still capable of using an extremely open, clear-line style, as evidenced by Leave It to Chance a few years down the road, so he must’ve been stepping back from the less detailed, animation-influenced rendering by choice. It’s really weird seeing him draw the lithe, young, sexed-up version of Rogue, by the way; for the first couple of pages on which she appears, my brain kept reading her as Kitty even though I knew otherwise, because Smith’s earlier Rogue was so different.

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