Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #280

"One Step Back -- Two Steps Forward"
September 1991

In a Nutshell
The X-Men defeat the Shadow King, but at the cost of Xavier's legs.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Andy Kubert with Steven Butler
Inkers: Inks-R-Us
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Shadow Prince: Bob Harras
Boss: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Xavier and a team of SHIELD agents penetrate the rubble of Muir Island to discover the Shadow King-controlled Legion holding a faction of X-Men captive. He quickly dispatches the SHIELD agents, then prepares to kill Xavier, but is stopped by Storm, who damages Legion enough to send him running, releasing the captive X-Men. Buying himself some time, Legion dispatches the X-Men still under his control to battle the rest, while Xavier prepares to enter the astral plane, with a contingent of X-Men protecting his body while the rest attempt to disrupt the nexus empowering the villain. On the astral plane, Xavier and the Shadow King fight, and the Shadow King shatters Xavier's legs, crippling him again.


This prompts Jean to bring the rest of the X-Men guarding his body onto the astral plane to help him, leaving his physical body unprotected as Legion approaches. In the real world. Forge manages to free Psylocke from the Shadow King's control, then uses her psychic knife on Polaris, thus disrupting the Shadow King's connection to the physical world, destroying him and leaving Legion an empty shell. In the aftermath, Xavier declares that the enthralled X-Men will be scarred in spirit yet ultimately fine, but that the Shadow King left him a parting gift: if Xavier ever achieves his dream, he will need his X-Men to walk him there.

Firsts and Other Notables
Professor X loses the ability to walk this issue, his spine shattered by the Shadow King during their psychic battle (via the old "whatever harm I inflict on the astral plane manifests physically as well" routine). This ends the long stretch of issues (from roughly the mid-170s) in which Xavier could walk, part of the overall deck-clearing and setup the "The Muir Island Saga" does in anticipation of the linewide relaunch next issue, which features a more traditional status quo for the X-Men (which means wheelchair-bound Xavier).


Of course, Xavier is so powerful that he needs something preventing him from simply going out into the field with the X-Men and telepathically solving all their problems, which is one of the reasons Claremont sent him off into space not long after restoring his ability to walk, so there's functional reason to put Xavier back in a wheelchair at play here besides just "cuz Bob Harras likes it better that way". Also, keep in mind, this is the second body Xavier has broken, since this is still the clone body created for him by Sikorsky following his transformation into a Brood in issue #167. Though being crippled by the Shadow King sounds a lot better (and is more thematically resonant) than being crippled by Lucifer, for sure (of course, there's also the fact that, as of issue #278, the Morlock Healer is still on hand, specifically to patch up injuries, but hey, look over there!).

The Shadow King is defeated and, seemingly, killed this issue, after Psylocke's psychic knife disrupts his connection to Lorna. He actually stays dead for a relatively long time, and won't return until the late 90s. In the process, Legion is incapacitated as well (the epilogue in X-Factor #70 will establish that he's in a coma), effectively clearing him from the deck as the series preps for a more traditional status quo starting next issue.


Upon the defeat of the Shadow King, Moira, at long last, returns to her normal self.


It's also noted that Polaris has shrunk in size (recall that she was physically larger following her encounter with Zaladane in issue #250, a result of new powers at work); that will be followed up on in X-Factor #70.

It's suggested in this issue that the Shadow King's defeat also destroys the astral plane, but well, that's just not the case, and I think the idea is mostly ignored by pretty much everyone moving forward.

Creator Central 
Andy Kubert, carrying over from the previous issue, draws this issue, along with Steven Butler. From the looks of it, their page assignments are random (there's no front half/back half split). Somewhat interestingly, Kubert draws this issue, which writes out Legion for a long period of time; a few years later, as the regular penciller of X-Men, he'll also draw the final issue of "Legion Quest", which kicks of "Age of Apocalypse" and also writes out Legion (for an even longer period of time), maybe Kubert sort of the unofficial go-to artist for getting rid of Legion.

Jim Lee provides the cover for this issue; not sure if he was going for a "Pieta" homage, but it's close.

A Work in Progress
As with the previous issue, the narrative captions are written from Xavier's perspective.

Legion's fire-creating abilities are called "pyrotic".

It's established that Legion's blast in X-Factor #69 destroyed most of the surface level facilities of Moira's research facility; the subbasement levels are still inact, and while the island suffered major damage, it won't be long before we see it again, and I don't believe any mention of rebuilding the facility is ever made.

Soviet Colonel Vazhin (spelled "Vashin") is still aboard the sub, along with Mystique. As will be the case again in the first Avengers film, he prepares to call in a nuclear strike on Muir Island should Professor X fail to defeat the Shadow King.


Rogue's costume is now just, essentially, a tattered green bikini, though at least in this case, it's arguably just her damaged costume from the previous issue.

Moira, however, has completely changed outfits between chapters, returning to her pseudo-Highland garb from issue #278 after wearing a more typical Moira jumpsuit in X-Factor #69.


The psychic armor Xavier dons on the astral plane to battle Shadow King matches what he wore during their first encounter in X-Men #117.


Beast mocks Guido's name; Guido getting his name mocked (albeit his codename) will become a recurring bit in X-Factor.


Shadow King declares the group of X-Men who enter the astral plane to be his most cherished students, though that could just be hyperbole (I can buy Cyclops, Jean, Storm and Colossus, but I'd think he'd prefer Beast to Angel, given the choice, and most likely, Nightcrawler and/or Kitty would be included in any group of "most cherished" students).

Forge's synaptic scrambler, which frees people from the Shadow King's control, is once again depicted a both an injectable substance, and a blast from a gun in the span of two pages.

Claremontisms
Shadow King declares he's corrupted Legion "body and soul".

The Best There is at What He Does
Gambit declares that Wolverine is not himself, still hurting inside, probably the last time the "Wolverine has lost a step" subplot is referenced, even obliquely (especially considered we've been seeing him heal up faster than ever in his solo series for months now).

The Best There is at What He Does, Mon Ami
Gambit is incorrectly called "Creole" this issue by Wolverine (he's Cajun).

For Sale
More trading cards, this time for Star Trek (spanning both Original Series and Next Generation).


It's in the Mail 
A letter writer in this issue complains that Wolverine is overexposed (he's not wrong, but it's only going to get worse), compares Jubilee to Wesley Crusher (that's not quite apt), and argues that Gambit is too perfect (making him possibly the first reader to realize that particular truth).

Teebore's Take
Like the "Muir Island Saga" as a whole, this issue gains from the circumstances of its publication moreso than from the story it's telling, which is, once again, mostly a mess. Having two pencilers trading off pages doesn't help (even if they mostly mesh well), but the sloppy issue-to-issue plotting continues unabated: Colossus is suddenly on Muir Island, despite disappearing halfway through X-Factor #69, Moira has traded costumes in the midst of an explosion, and the key to defeating the Shadow King turns out to be psychic knifeing Lorna (which, as presented in this issue itself, should have, at best, simply weakened him, not outright destroyed him, and also sets up an odd dichotomy in which Psylocke is weak enough to become his thrall, but also strong enough to singlehandedly defeat him).

But despite all that, this issue still feels like a big deal. Chris Claremont technically left halfway through last issue, but this still feels like the true end of his era of the book, the final issue of the series before the big relaunch which, amongst other things, really ushers in what we think of when we think of "90s X-Men comics". To that end, this issue is filled with the feeling of being conclusive: the Shadow King, a threat on various levels for almost thirty issues now, is defeated (rather perfunctorily and undramatically, given the build-up and what we now know to have been Claremont's long-term plans for the villain, but still, it's an ending), Professor X is re-crippled (the better to fit the "classic" image of the series), his son, like Cyclops' an uncomfortable reminder of a non-classic status quo, ushered out of the franchise (also like Cyclops' son), Polaris is returned to normal (the better for her role in the new X-Factor) and we're left with a combined group of X-Men (including the originals and the Muir Islanders) too big for one book.

It's not the best ending possible, for either the Shadow King storyline or Claremont's tenure as a whole, or even necessarily a good ending, but it is an ending, all too rare in serial comic book stories, and it gains something from that. There's an "end of an era" feeling to this, a last look at these particular characters looking and arrayed this way, a feeling which transcends the inconsistent art, sloppy narrative, and ho-hum conclusion that defines the storyline as a whole.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, a new Weapon X debuts in X-Force #2. Friday, the "Muir Island Saga" gets an epilogue in X-Factor #70. Next week, Wolverine: Bloody Choices.

Collected Editions

16 comments:

  1. Disappearing-reappearing Colossus prompted my first ever head-canon No-Prize explanation: he was in another sub, sent as back-up in case X-Factor failed. If 13 year-old me could think of that, editorial could have put in one sentence to cover themselves.

    I remember this issue being everything you wrote it was, and feeling antsy to get to the upcoming X-Men 1, Uncanny 281, & X-Factor 71. It felt like an ending, sure, but also an afterthought.

    - Mike Loughlin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. An afterthought is probably a good way to describe this story as a whole.

      Delete
  2. Status quo is also returned by Wolverine being on top of Gambit this time and telling him to not ask for the third claw. A whole new status quo, as noted by our letter-writing fellow reader.

    Kubert draws this issue, which writes out Legion for a long period of time; a few years later, as the regular penciller of X-Men, he'll also draw the final issue of "Legion Quest", which kicks of "Age of Apocalypse" and also writes out Legion (for an even longer period of time), maybe Kubert sort of the unofficial go-to artist for getting rid of Legion.

    "And it is so fitting, is it not, for the hand which kills you to be that of your tortured son?!" by a psychic blade* wielding Legion instantly reminds one of the ending of Legion Quest. When the boy comes our of coma, he picks up right where he was left here... unintentionally in-universe, mayhap, but it just keeps opening up to me how nicely they seem to be weaving in the happenstances for Legion Quest from the more canonical era of the X-Men that draws closed now.

    * I initially typoed this to "psychic balde"; please join me in my half-hearted snort.

    Speaking of whom, I find it inherently stupid and shoehorned to have Xavier crippled again. Especially as they very specifically won't be putting him into a wheelchair but into something else that completely allows him to join action any time, taking away much of the creative incentive from the very move. I refuse to accept it's nothing but the school of "it's a school, they're the students!" taken to the extremis with " and he's wheelchair bound!". Alternatively Xavier could lose his telepathics, or to have them diminished so that he needs Cerebro to use them effectively and thusly be mansion-bound. It's all Harras here I tell you. The toy is not only being put back onto the shelf; it's fitted back into the original retail packaging with all the equipment and the attached mini-comic.

    When it happened originally, it was actually a great fit to have it been done by a cave-in and an otherwise unrelated character Lucifer. These sort of crap sometimes happens near accidentally when you go play heroics. Messing it with the Shadow King and the thematics take away from it, because it has the airs of turning it from being a haphazard condition to a Motivation: "I'm invalid, but I have something to more than make up with it." vs. "I was crippled by my aarrch-nemesis!"

    I'd think he'd prefer Beast to Angel, given the choice

    Is Angel still loaded with money at this point? It's expensive, you know, to run (and rebuild and re-re-build) a mansion and school and a Danger Room and a Blackbird... maybe SK is taunting Xavier of his antics during the second Cockrum run when Warren offered financial aid for the repairs and he took it totally granted and didn't even thank, like we all have ever since.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agree to disagree about Lucifier crippling Xavier - I think it's one of the worst examples of one of the big flaws of Lee's writing: the way he'd just throw stuff out there and see what stuck (since, understandably, he had a ton of stuff to script and didn't expect anyone to care about this stuff decades later). Sometimes, that approach yielded great things, and sometimes, we got Xavier being crippled by some random ass alien that has no thematic connection to the larger themes of the X-Men.

      I think Xavier getting crippled by Shadow King, or Magneto, or an anti-mutant mob, or SOMETHING that ties into his dream of overcoming prejudice has a lot more resonance than him being crippled by a villain who, if not for being the answer to a trivia question, no one would even remember today.

      You're probably right though that could have been other ways to sideline Xavier without crippling him again, but yeah, Harras wanted his "classic look" X-Men back (and Lee being Lee, Harras couldn't argue with the sci-fi chair if he wanted to).

      Is Angel still loaded with money at this point?

      I'd say he's probably not, since I believe the world at large still considers him dead (so his fortune would have gone...somewhere). But he's rich again further down the road, so he clears that up at some point; I just don't know if it's happened yet.

      That said, I still think Xavier would cherish Beast more than Angel. Sure, he likes Angel's money, but that could very well be ALL he likes about him. :)

      Delete
    2. Agree we shall have then, to disagree. I think for Xavier's character it was good that the crippling happened in non-mutant heroics, to establish that he effectively was a bona fide superhero/adventurer himself back in the day, who after that retired to recluse and his work as geneticist, until the public appearance of the mutants forced him to found the X-Men.

      It of course gets wonky after Claremont retcons the Shadow King facedown and Magneto/Hydra/Gaby Haller shenanigans to precede that and establish SK as an important motivator for Xavier.

      Delete
    3. Didn't Hodge manipulate Warren into leaving the fortune to Hodge? Or something like that.

      Delete
    4. Hate to do my own research. :)

      Archangel was outed as Warren Worthington by the press during the Ravens shenanigans and he then went on to give an impromptu presser at the end of X-FACTOR #59. I don't know the US laws but if they're anything like ours in this matter then Warren as a person going through a false declaration of death has a right for the return of his property from those who've taken the possession of it based on said declaration.

      He was facing charges for fraud though during his stay in hospital after Mutant Massacre for hiding the X-Factor properties from the investors of Worthington Industries, but I don't think we never heard of it since. Maybe they could have it pinned on Hodge's maneuvering and the case scrapped off-panel, or maybe it helps to have friends in high positions in the government like Val Cooper and Nick Fury...

      Delete
    5. "- I think it's one of the worst examples of one of the big flaws of Lee's writing: the way he'd just throw stuff out there and see what stuck"

      To be fair to Lee, Lucifer was still a pretty mysterious character after his first appearance. You could have taken him in any direction. It was Roy Thomas who decided he was a "random ass alien that has no thematic connection to the larger themes of the X-Men".

      Delete
  3. "Upon the defeat of the Shadow King, Moira, at long last, returns to her normal self."

    The dialogue bubble ("Don't they all...") coming from Moira really should be coming from Forge.

    "Jim Lee provides the cover for this issue; not sure if he was going for a "Pieta" homage, but it's close."

    I'm surprised he didn't try to homage #167 (which itself was an homage to #136). Heck, Jean kind of fits into Kitty's place for #167.

    "and I don't believe any mention of rebuilding the facility is ever made"

    The epilogue also points out the entire island itself was damaged, but again, that gets forgotten too.

    "Rogue's costume is now just, essentially, a tattered green bikini, though at least in this case, it's arguably just her damaged costume from the previous issue."

    I always thought it was her bikini outfit from the Savage Land? In either case, good to know she and Moira can change outfits faster than the Flash can.

    "Beast mocks Guido's name; Guido getting his name mocked (albeit his codename) will become a recurring bit in X-Factor."

    I guess PAD is the one who gave Guido his kinetic absorption powers? Otherwise, no way Rogue and Beast should be able to beat on him the way they are now, and the way Rogue did a few issues ago.

    "Forge's synaptic scrambler, which frees people from the Shadow King's control, is once again depicted a both an injectable substance, and a blast from a gun in the span of two pages."

    I think we can fan-wank that the gun stuns them, the injection returns them to normal. The big discrepancy was him putting some type of headband on Wolverine last issue.

    "but it is an ending"

    I almost heard you say that in Marge Simpson's voice...

    So yes, this is something of a mess. It isn't horrible, though the quality of the art does vary from page to page depending on the artist and inker, and the plot rushes along in the most perfunctory way possible. At the end of the day, it does what it is supposed to do, clear the decks and get everything ready for the line-wide reboot.

    As the final issue of the CC era of Uncanny, it's rather blah all over. The fact that we get a whole new status quo next issue gives this one, in retrospect, more of an "end of an era" feel than anything else. While we still have CC's final 3 issues of X-men, looking back, we can say this is truly the last of the 80s Uncanny X-men. Next issue, the 90s hit you with all the subtlety of a shovel to the face.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised he didn't try to homage #167 (which itself was an homage to #136). Heck, Jean kind of fits into Kitty's place for #167.

      Good point on Jean/Kitty. And both of those were Pietas, so maybe Lee was going for that here after all?

      I always thought it was her bikini outfit from the Savage Land?

      I've seen others refer to it as that as well. It very well could be - the problem is that her outfit last issue was mostly green and her Savage Land outfit was a tattered green bikini, so it's hard to tell if it was a pre-tattered green bikini she's wearing in this issue or a newly-tattered version of what she was wearing in #279. :)

      I guess PAD is the one who gave Guido his kinetic absorption powers?

      I'd never considered if before, but I think you're right; certainly, I can't remember that being established in any of Guido's previous appearances, so it must have been PAD in X-FACTOR.

      I almost heard you say that in Marge Simpson's voice...

      Oh, it was written with Marge's voice in my head. :)

      Next issue, the 90s hit you with all the subtlety of a shovel to the face.

      It's kind of amazing: we've had Lee on the book for awhile now, and stuff like Jubilee and Ninja Psylocke and Gambit, but it really does feel like the 90s elements go from "1" to "50" between this issue and the next.

      Delete
  4. The internet-less world of the early 90s meant I had no idea of the creative strife behind the scenes at the time, and I didn't even realize Claremont had left the book (I knew he was going to write the new series, but was under the impression that he'd be writing both) until I read this issue without looking at the credits and something seemed... off. It was like someone trying to do Claremont karaoke, a description that I find especially apt for the next several years of the two central X-books. It's a damned shame, the way they shoehorned the guy off the books with such little fanfare.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Claremont karaoke" is a good way to describe the next year or so of the series. After that, with Nicieza and Lobedll firmly entrenched as the writers, they shake it off a bit, but it takes a long while for the books to get out from under Claremont's shadow - if, in fact, they ever do.

      Delete
  5. I thought they actually said in one of the issues that the gun and the injection were the two parts of a two-part Shadow King cure/inoculation. I don't think that requires fan-explanation. (Although yeah, ww, the headband is an outlier.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. The gun was just a temporary disruption, blocking the Shadow King's signal, so to speak. The injection is what restores a person to normal control of their mind. Yeah, it was explained by Forge in X-factor #69.

    https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-0Iae2LXB1C8/VtCMlvsWzDI/AAAAAAAAcVQ/sr-9rP3Ph4o/s1600/X-Factor%2B%252369%2B-%2BRogue%2527s%2Bcostume.png

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think that was a case of Nicieza, to his credit, scripting to cover artistic inconsistency. It still bugs me that we don't ever really see Forge using both methods in tandem (it's usually just one or the other).

      Delete

  7. I think it’s just the last three story pages that are penciled by Butler. Any non-Kubert stuff you see earlier might be due to the varied inkers, possibly finishing over rough pencils. The GCD, by the way, has “Inks-R-Us” consisting of Scott Williams, Joe Rubinstein, and Michael Bair.

    Col. Vashin/Vazhin sure looks, apart from the darkened lens being over the other eye, like he’s being drawn and — especially — colored as Nick Fury. In X-Factor #69 his hair is darker, not brown with white temples as here, and in earlier appearances his face is slimmer with a different hairline. Which is admittedly just about on a par with the physiognomic changes between early and later Punisher, never mind that time when he, y'know, turned black for a while.

    The climax really is rushed and sloppy. Perhaps more importantly in the long term, however, I’m entirely sick of the way Gambit talks already. This does not bode well for the rest of the decade.

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!