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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #2

"Firestorm"
November 1991

In a Nutshell
Magneto captures the Blue team, and learns that Moira altered his genetic structure as a child.

By: Chris Claremont & Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Firechief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In Genosha, Magneto reiterates that the Acolytes are under his protection, then scatters the X-Men as the Genoshans attack him. Watching from the UN, the Soviet representative tells Nick Fury his country is deploying the Magneto Protocols, while at the X-Mansion, Professor X seeks out Moira. Back in Genosha, the X-Men are captured, and Magneto carries them back to Asteroid M, where Cortez informs him of an anomaly he discovered in Magneto's genetic scan. On Earth, Xavier finds Moira at the boathouse, and the pair are shortly thereafter joined by Magneto, who carries the structure into space. He forces Moira to admit that when he was an infant in her care, she tried to modify his genetic structure in order to reduce the apparent madness caused by using his powers. Outraged at this violation, Magneto forces Moira to do the same to the captured X-Men, bending them to his will. Meanwhile, on the Sakhalin Islands, Matsu'o Tsuryaba of the Hand acquires Omega Red from a Soviet general. At the X-Mansion, the Gold team, having learned of their teammates' apparent betrayal, practice fighting them, the Acolytes and Magneto in the Danger Room, to mounting losses. But their training is called short when Nick Fury reveals the extent of the Magneto Protocols: an orbital Russian plasma cannon designed to blow up Asteroid M. They need to move fast to save their friends, and despite the odds, Storm says they must at least try.

Firsts and Other Notables
Continuing last issue's embrace of X-history, this issue dives even deeper, not only referencing the events of Defenders #16 (the fairly laughable story in which Magneto is reduced to infancy by his own creation, Mutant Alpha) but using it as a significant plot point for the story. Long before I ever read that Defenders issue itself, I was aware of these events thanks to the references in this story, which combined with the Classic X-Men reprint of X-Men #104 (in which Magneto is restored to adulthood by Erik the Red, also referenced here, another fairly deep historical cut) made me feel, as a young, inexperienced reader, like I had a pretty good handle on this particular arc of Magneto's character.


The Defenders reference is used to suggest a retcon to Magneto's development through the years under Claremont, suggesting that his swerve towards Xavier's path was motivated by tinkering to his genetic structure done by Moira while an infant in her care, this creating a clear line of demarcation between "looney Silver Age Magneto" and the more measured and nuanced Claremontian Magneto. Outraged, Magneto in turn forces Moira to use this process to brainwash the Blue team into serving him, setting up the big Blue vs. Gold battle for next issue. But next issue will also rollback this retcon, revealing that while Moira TRIED to alter Magneto, but the change didn't take, because the more a subject uses their power, the faster the alterations are undone, thus leaving Magneto's development as an act of character and not manipulation on Moira's part.


In a brief subplot scene setting up the series' next story arc, Omega Red is mentioned for the first time, as Matsu'o Tsuryaba (who orchestrated Psylocke's transformation into Asian Ninja Psylocke) and the Hand retrieve a mysterious coffin-like object from a Soviet general.  


Xavier's X-branded jumpsuit debuts this issue, which becomes his default uniform for the foreseeable future, when he's doing field work or otherwise not wearing some kind of suit or civilian clothes.

Though last issue seemed to suggest that Cortez has some kind of healing-based power, this issue shows that he actually has the ability to supercharge other people's powers. Rather than an inconsistency, this becomes a plot point next issue.


The new series gets its corner cover box this issue, and like X-Factor's it's more of an action shot than the traditional floating heads.

A Work in Progress
This issue reveals that the events we (the readers) know as "X-Tinction Agenda" are also known as such by the characters in-universe. On the one hand, that's kind of cute, and nicely simplistic. On the other hand "X-Tinction Agenda" is such a marketing term (like, why wouldn't the codename be Extinction Agenda? Why does SHIELD need to highlight the "X" in their codename) that it doesn't really make sense.


The Magneto Protocols referenced last issue are revealed to involve the Soviets launching an experimental plasma cannon into space to blast Asteroid M, the repercussions of which are frightening enough to motivate Nick Fury to give the remaining X-Men a heads up in order to effect a different solution before the Russians can fire it.


The Reference Section
Forge takes a cheap shot at the oft-losing Mets, though I'm not sure if they were in the midst of particularly rough stretch at this point in time, or if Claremont was just referencing their general malaise as a franchise.


Claremontisms
Twice in two pages two different characters say "a body" in reference to themselves.

Artistic Achievements
Jim Lee once again draws Banshee buttoning the high collar of his uniform, something I always appreciate.


To the EXTREME! 
A brainwashed Cyclops specifically references Cable and X-Force to Xavier as an example to follow in these modern times, suggesting at least that the X-Men are now aware of the New Mutants' transformation into X-Force and their new overall attitude.


Austin's Analysis 
As much as he loomed large over the previous issue, this one is all about Magneto: how the world is responding to his recent, more villainous actions, how his current behavior compares to his previous time with the X-Men, how that previous behavior may have been influenced by Moira. The latter is actually a rather fascinating pseudo-retcon (pseudo because next issue will roll it back): providing an in-universe explanation for the change in Magneto's behavior as Claremont transitioned him from a raving, one-dimensional loon to one of the most nuanced characters in comics. It arguably undercuts the work Claremont did (making it less that Magneto grew on his own and more that an outside force was responsible), and I'd bet good money that if Claremont himself wasn't writing this issue, the idea may have stuck, but it's nevertheless an interesting idea.

Magneto looms so large over this issue that the X-Men are largely objects in their own book: everything they do is in reaction to him, before being brainwashed into joining him (Wolverine, well-entrenched as the franchise's bread-and-butter at this point, curiously enough, doesn't have a single line throughout the entire second issue of a high-profile relaunch, and is captured along withe Cyclops off-panel). Which isn't to say that's a bad thing. Just that by the second issue of the story, with all the relaunch business handled in the previous one, it's becoming clear that Claremont intends for this story, his X-Men swansong, to serve as his final word on Magneto, the character who most represents the development he put into the series over his fifteen year run.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Excalibur #43. Friday, Wolverine #48. Next week, Excalibur #44.

Collected Editions

23 comments:

  1. Nice analysis regarding this being all Magneto's story, something I probably picked up on, and a reason why I love(d) this story. The fact that Claremont was perhaps intentionally writing his own swan-song about Magneto only adds to this book for me.

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  2. Holy crap! I’m surprised Fury can stand up. The way Lee piled on his gear it’s like Batman’s utility belt was gangbanged by a platoon of Army Rangers on a bed of GI Joe accessories.

    // a rather fascinating pseudo-retcon //

    I haven’t read these issues in 25 years, and I don’t recall how or to what extent the idea gets walked back next chapter, but I agree. We didn’t really need an explanation for Magneto’s evolution under Claremont in the present day — first, given how the whole de-aged/re-aged situation had made his turn towards Xavier's POV easy enough to canonically rationalize, and second, given that even within the Silver Age itself and even at Marvel, which became known for its more nuanced characterization of heroes and villains both, there was a tidal change over that decade-plus span in terms of what readers expected and creators attempted to deliver. An explanation for how Magneto became that cackling villain after the continuity implants of his past as written by Claremont, however, and for his regression of sorts since leaving the school, for why he might feel so conflicted about it all, does seem warranted. Claremont may have been the only one amongst the creative or editorial crew who thought so, unfortunately. I’m not sure how Moira can manipulate the X-Men’s DNA to make them specifically and instantly sympathetic if not subservient to Magneto, though, versus altering Magneto’s DNA as a child in hopes of neutralizing or compensating for the possible cause of an electrochemical imbalance over his lifetime; of course, I’m not a brilliant geneticist in a fictional universe conducive to stuff like that.

    // the Gold team, having learned of their teammates' apparent betrayal, practice fighting them, the Acolytes and Magneto in the Danger Room //

    I’m also not sure how the Danger Room has intel on the Acolytes when I couldn’t tell you how many of them there are, let alone their various powers, so I guess we just have to fold it into the literally unanswered question of Storm’s to Jean about whether her psychic rapport with Scott is how she knows his team is working for Magneto now. I wonder if Claremont sprained anything when he threw his hands up after seeing that page.

    // Magneto captures the Blue team //

    Are they officially called Blue and Gold yet, by the way? While I recall knowing those labels were in use around the time these issues came out, that might’ve been from marketing or press coverage; if the teams were referred to as such here or in Uncanny so far I missed it.

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    1. it’s like Batman’s utility belt was gangbanged by a platoon of Army Rangers on a bed of GI Joe accessories.

      Haha!

      Are they officially called Blue and Gold yet, by the way?

      I'm pretty sure last issue had Professor X telling Cyclops to take the Blue team to face Magneto while Storm's Gold team hung back in reserve, but now you have me doubting that...

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    2. Yep. I missed the panel in a cursory reread before posting my comment but it’s right where you said.

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  3. Note that Magneto seemed to be a hologram last issue but he's definitely real this issue.

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    1. I've seen that noted in a few places, but I've never been entirely sure what prompts it. Certainly, I never read issue #1 and thought Magneto was a hologram until I saw people on the internet saying he was. It's not like his image ever "glitches out" or anything; what is it in issue #1 that suggests he's a hologram?

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    2. It's not the image- it's the word balloons. Magneto's word balloons in that scene are different than when he usually talks, like the kind you usually see when someone's talking via radio.

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  4. Magneto hijacks a house with people in it to the orbit, vol 2. Gotta wonder if it's intentional take by Claremont on the newly villainous Magneto of Acts of Vengeance fame.

    But that UN scene. Totally unbelievable stuff that a representative of a country could go claiming like that that they'll do it alone if the UN is incapable of acting against a tyrant with weapons of mass destruction. Who writes this crap?

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    1. Yeah, I thought the "carrying the boathouse into the upper atmosphere" was nice homage, whether intentional or not, and whether prompted by Lee or Claremont (I'd honestly put my money on Lee, in fact).

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  5. "The latter is actually a rather fascinating pseudo-retcon (pseudo because next issue will roll it back): providing an in-universe explanation for the change in Magneto's behavior as Claremont transitioned him from a raving, one-dimensional loon to one of the most nuanced characters in comics. "

    This issue was picking up on some material that Claremont first seeded in 1987, with "Classic X-Men" #19's backup story. Moira talks about the same thing that the doctor in the 1987 story does, about Magneto channeling "primal forces" through his body is having an effect on the electrical connections in his brain and spinal cord. The suggestion is that the "nuanced" Magneto is the "real one," and the "raving loon" is (at least partially) the result of brain damage from Magneto's manipulation of Magnetism. It is indeed, fascinating. And also awesome.

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    1. I like the CLASSIC X-MEN retcon a little bit more, simply because it positions Magneto's redemption as genuine while still offering up an explanation for the extreme shift in his characterization over time. I think it even works as a fanwank to explain all the up-and-down portrayals of Magneto we'll get after this, where he'll ping-pong from "raving loon" to "measured and nuanced villain" again and again.

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  6. Continuing last issue's embrace of X-history, this issue dives even deeper, not only referencing the events of Defenders #16 (the fairly laughable story in which Magneto is reduced to infancy by his own creation, Mutant Alpha) but using it as a significant plot point for the story.

    Always an important bit of Magneto backstory of me, as it was similarly referenced in UNCANNY #200, partially printed in my very first X-Men issue. Claremont has fine history of taking the happenstance seriously, with a point of his defense being that the criminal acts prior his "rebirth" weren't actionable. Very haunting rendition of Mutant Alpha there in the flashback for an uninitiated.

    Of course, it was also a convenient way of doing away the Silver Age villainy not written by Claremont.

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    1. Between this and X-MEN #200, you'd think Alpha is much cooler than he actually is if they were your first encounters with him (as they were for me). :)

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    2. I've never actually read that DEFENDERS arc, so for me, Alpha was, is, and always will be really cool.

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  7. Sadly, some people have taken the pseudo-retcon as canon without acknowledging the payoff. One website and the X-MEN: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE published at the turn-of-the-century use the 'Magneto-became-a-good-guy-because-Moira-tampered-with-his-DNA' excuse.

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    1. Says "Ultimate" on the title, can be written off as nonsense. ;)

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    2. Yeah, I see that pop up in a few places, and it always drives me nuts (similar to when Jean's "death" in UXM #281 gets cited as an example of how the character always dies and gets resurrected). Like, did they not read the next issue? This isn't even a retcon that gets re-retconned years later or something; it's something that happens in the middle of the story. It'd be like writing a reference guide to the X-Men that declares half the team defected to Magneto's side at this point and never returned.

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  8. "The new series gets its corner cover box this issue"

    I always liked it.

    "this issue shows that he actually has the ability to supercharge other people's powers"

    This is also the only issue to suggest that Cortez has some serious martial arts skills, given that he overpowers Psylocke in hand-to-hand combat. I've said it before, the Cortez we get in these 3 issues is so much more interesting and credible as a threat to the incompetent buffoon we end up getting.

    "I’m also not sure how the Danger Room has intel on the Acolytes when I couldn’t tell you how many of them there are"

    My own fan wank is that since the Acolytes were being pursued by SHIELD agents, SHIELD had intel on them and shared it with the X-men. Also Jean off-panel was monitoring the situation in Genosha using Cerebro, so got even more intel on the Acolytes.

    Otherwise, a wizard did it.

    All in all, despite a few flaws (a bit too much wordiness from CC, like is he trying to cram in as many words per page as he can in his final issues?), this is a pretty strong issue. The pacing is good, there is a nice mix of action and characterization, and Lee's artwork is really strong here.

    As you say, the real focus of the issue is CC's work on Megneto, and it is very interesting. His retcon here is almost an answer to people like Stern and Byrne who keep wanting to revert Magneto to his Silver Age one dimension personality. In a way, giving a reason why a raving lunatic like Megneto would reform. Then next issue is even more delicious, like CC is saying "Syke! He reformed because there is a genuine and sincere part of him that is a good person, even if that part doesn't always win out in the end!" It makes Magneto a deep, conflicted character, much more superior to the generic mustache twirling loon others seem hell-bent on forcing him back into being.

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    1. I like this corner box too. Generally, I prefer the classic floating heads look, but I have a soft spot for this one. Probably because it was in place when I first started reading.

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    2. "I've said it before, the Cortez we get in these 3 issues is so much more interesting and credible as a threat to the incompetent buffoon we end up getting."

      One thing I liked about X-MEN FOREVER was that Claremont hinted there was more to Cortez than met the eye, and presenting him as the main villain of the series' first story. The X-Men were all about tracking down Cortez right away after the events of X-MEN 1 - 3.

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  9. I find it odd that Claremont gave himself an "out", so to speak, to explain how his version of Magneto had reverted to villainy, but chose not to take it. I like the idea that his good phase was due to Moira's tinkering and his reversion to villainy is simply because it didn't stick. It justifies "headmaster Magneto" but also returns the character to his irredeemable roots all at once. It seems like a win/win for everyone involved.

    I understand your analysis -- that Moira's involvement would mean Magneto didn't grow on his own -- but the original Magneto was just straight up evil. I just have a hard time believing he could pull off the full 180 Claremont wrote.

    (Though I would also accept the explanation from CLASSIC X-MEN as discussed by Jason and yourself above. I know CXM is technically canon, but someone really should have overtly canonized it in one of the main X-books during the nineties; maybe around the time of "Fatal Attractions"...)

    "why wouldn't the codename be Extinction Agenda? Why does SHIELD need to highlight the "X" in their codename"

    I dunno, the U.S. military loves to give cute nicknames to operations and people. I think it fits.

    "Forge takes a cheap shot at the oft-losing Mets..."

    Funny to look at that comment this particular season, as the Mets defend their National League pennant.

    "Jim Lee once again draws Banshee buttoning the high collar of his uniform, something I always appreciate."

    I like it too, though I also like that he frequently has the collar flared, since it looks more like his original costume that way.

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  10. Blam: I’m also not sure how the Danger Room has intel on the Acolytes when I couldn’t tell you how many of them there are, let alone their various powers -- -- I wonder if Claremont sprained anything when he threw his hands up after seeing that page.

    There appears an extra female acolute now who gets no name nor vocal acknowledgement of her existence. Online resources name her Nance Winters, one of the SHIELD agents. With this and the "what is a Delgado" in the previous issue it's hard not to think that co-plotter Lee had an idea of the SHIELD agents getting brainwashed to Magneto's agenda and that it absolutely didn't fly with Claremont (it's nonsensical of course with them being flatscans). Remembering Byrne's cooperation-ending indignation about Claremont usurping his last say as the scripter, it's alanismorrissetteic that he gets this done by his penciler-co-plotter here now.

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  11. "This issue reveals that the events we (the readers) know as "X-Tinction Agenda" are also known as such by the characters in-universe."

    Situations like this have always fascinated me - And in a grander sense, things that we see in the comics that civilians in-universe also know (Like civilians referencing past battles).

    I've often wondered how much of the X-Men mythos is known to the general public at large. Like do they know who's on the team, what battles they fought, etc.? The X-Men differ from most other superheroes in that they're more underground and tend to stay out of the spotlight (And when they get into the spotlight it's usually bad news).

    On a side note, we also know characters' secret identities, but it's easy to forget the general public doesn't know who they are. I realized this while reason Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin series a few years back. Dick Grayson was Batman at the time, and he's meeting with Gordon and some cops. As Dick and Damian leave, one of the cops says to another "Did he get shorter?" I also think there was a remark about his voice being different. We as readers know that Dick is Batman now, but the public assumes it's the same guy. This also happens a lot when a new character assumes the mantle of a superhero and everyone just assumes it's the same person but with a new costume.

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