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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

X-amining Bizarre Adventures #27

"Phoenix" / "Winter Carnival" / "Show Me The Way To Go Home"
July 1981

In a Nutshell
A trio of tales featuring Phoenix, Iceman & Nightcrawler

Writers: Chris Claremont (1st Story), Mary Jo Duffy (2nd & 3rd Story)
Plot: Mary Jo Duffy & Bob Layton (3rd Story)
Artists: John Buscema & Klaus Janson (1st Story), George Perez & Alfredo Alcala (2nd Story), Dave Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte (3rd Story)
Letterers: Janice Chaing & Rick Parker
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Dennis O'Neil
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
1st Story: Visiting her sister's grave, Sara Grey recalls the time in which she and Jean were kidnapped by the undersea warlord Attuma and transformed into water-breathers, part of Attuma's plot to breed super-powered children to conquer Atlantis. But Attuma was unprepared for the power of Phoenix, allowing Jean and her sister to escape. Afterwards, Jean wiped Sara's memory of the events, but her memories returned upon Jean's death, and now Sara is less apprehensive about the idea of her children being mutants.

2nd Story: While visiting a college campus, Iceman helps foil a plot to steal some sophisticated computer equipment given to the school by Dr. Hank Pym. In the process, he comes to appreciate the old superhero lifestyle once again.

3rd Story: The X-Men are alerted by Cerebro to the return of Vanisher, who is stuck halfway between teleporting after an encounter with Darkstar of the Champions. When Nightcrawler touches him, the two are transported through the Darkforce dimension to another world, where their teleportation powers don't work. After consulting an oracle for help, Nightcrawler forces Vanisher to enter the Well at the Center of Time with him, which takes them home, just moments after they left.

Firsts and Other Notables
Part of Marvel's black-and-white magazine imprint, Bizarre Adventures began life as Marvel Preview (in which Star-Lord, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame first appeared) but was renamed with issue #25, after which it ran stories featuring more mainstream Marvel characters, including the trio of X-Men featured in this story.

The first story, featuring Jean Grey, is the source of the Jean's backstory referenced in "Inferno", in which a ten year old Jean telepathically experiences the death of her friend Annie Richardson, after which she becomes withdrawn and is eventually taken to Professor X for treatment. It also reveals that Jean's telepathy is an innate ability of her own, in addition to her telekinetic powers, and that when Xavier "gave" her a portion of his telepathic power back in the Silver Age, he was actually just removing the mental blocks he'd placed on that ability when she was a child.


The second story features Iceman, while in college, visiting another school, and helping foil a plot to steal a computer. It ends with him having enjoyed being a superhero again (since he's been more or less retired while in school) and seems to suggest he's going to re-enter that world, seemingly as a setup for something else, but nothing ever really comes of it, and it won't be until years later, when Iceman joins the New Defenders, that he's featured regularly in a series again.

The third story is a Nightcrawler adventure drawn by Dave Cockrum, and Cockrum will later reference it in his Nightcrawler miniseries.

It also features Vanisher, the teleporting mutant who first appeared in X-Men #2. As the issue begins, Vanisher is stuck halfway between a teleport, as seen in his last appearance in Champions #17 (a nice bit of continuity), and is covered with some of Darkstar's Dark Force energy. He proceeds to appear wearing the energy like an all black body suit in this story, and is able to control it to some degree) While he seems to lose it by the end of the story, he appears wearing something similar in X-Factor #12, when he's running a gang of thieves including Boom-Boom, and I wonder if Walt Simonson in that issue used this story as a reference for his look, and just assumed the black look was a regular jumpsuit.


Sara Grey worries that her children might be mutants; they will in fact turn out to be mutants, and while there were once bigger plans for Sara and her kids, ultimately Sara will die off-screen, and her kids will eventually be kidnapped by Nanny prior to "Inferno", after which they'll make a handful of appearances.

Each issue begins with a proto-Handbook "data log" providing information on each character.


The Iceman story was later reprinted, in color, in the X-Men Rarities trade (which is where I first encountered it). As far as I know, the other two stories have never been reprinted, which is odd, at least given the stuff established in the Phoenix story.

The Chronology Corner
The framing sequence of  the Jean Grey story, featuring Sara Grey, takes place after the death of Phoenix in X-Men #137 (she is visiting "Jean's" grave), while the events of Sara's flashback take place between X-Men #109 and #110.

Iceman appears in his story after X-Men #146 (in which he served on the "reserve" X-Men team during the Arcade/Dr. Doom story) and prior to his appearance in Avengers #211.

The Nightcrawler story is set after X-Men Annual #3 and before issue #125.

Vanisher appears between Champions #17 & Secret Wars II #7.

A Work in Progress
In Jean's flashback, Professor X is described as having just returned from the near east, following a tragic accident. He's also said to be a master of a score of academic disciplines, perhaps Claremont's way of explaining all the gadgets & gizmos he created in the Silver Age.


Attuma's plan to make breeding stock of super-powered women in order to create a bunch of super-powered kids he can use to fight Namor, aside from being, you know, skeevy, also seems like a really long-range plan. I mean, he's got to find, kidnap and impregnate a bunch of women still, then the kids need to grow up, be trained in the use of their powers, etc. He's looking at, at the minimum, a good ten years before he can reasonably expect this plan to pay off.


Cerebro alerts the X-Men to Vanisher's plight, with the idea being that this half of him is appearing just now, months after the accident with Darkstar. But Vanisher is a known mutant, and at this point, Cerebro is pretty well-established as only sounding alarms when a new mutant manifests (it can, of course, find any mutant, but only when directed to).

In Nightcrawler's story, the X-Men are flying a ship that looks an awful lot like the ship they stole from Larry Trask's Sentinel base in X-Men #60.


Nightcrawler's rarely-referenced ability to become invisible in shadows is referenced.

I Love the 80s
The Jean story does one of those comic book things where the bulk of it is meant to depict Sara's memories of the events, yet in the course of her recollection, Jean in turn has a flashback to an event in her childhood. So, like, at that point in their trip, did Jean tell Sara about what she was thinking about?

The plot of the Iceman story is centered around the theft of computer equipment from a college.


Watching a movie with Nightcrawler, Colossus finds Zorro to be pleasingly Communist.


Artistic Achievements
Jean & Sara are said to have blue skin after being transformed by Attuma into water-breathers, but of course, we can't see that since the art is black and white.

Similarly, aside from one scene where Jean swims away from some guards, most of the underwater scenes don't look like they're taking place underwater; for example, Jean, Sara & Attuma at one point are seated around a table with food laid out on it, and nothing appears to be floating or set out differently to account for being underwater.


"Professor Xavier Jean Grey is a jerk!"
Sara says that Jean initially erased Sara's memory of her encounter with Attuma, but then the block wore off after Jean died. It's not really clear what the detail adds, either in-story or out.


Austin's Analysis
Of the three stories in this issue, the standout of the bunch (if only for the way it's been referenced outside of this issue) is the initial Phoenix story, mostly because of a couple of pages in the middle of the story which provide the first bit of backstory for Jean Grey, including the fact that her telepathic power is innate, and not "borrowed" from Xavier. The rest of the story, with Namor/Avengers villain Attuma kidnapping Jean and her sister to use as breeding stock gives Buscema some sword-and-sorcery type stuff to draw (his bread-and-butter ) and works as another eulogy for the then-deceased Jean, but is otherwise fairly rote.

But the whole Annie Richardson/connected to her dying mind/telepathy suppressed by Xavier business will be referenced occasionally going forward (notably during "Inferno", which is where I first encountered it), and while the details themselves are fairly standard "tragic origin" material, it gives a pre-X-Men Jean the kind of backstory her male counterparts received via the back-up stories in the Silver Age (and certainly works better than "kidnapped by a diamond-themed villain" or "threatened into helping a Conquistador-themed villain"). Jean was, until Phoenix came along, the least developed of the original X-Men, rarely getting much in the way of characterization beyond "the girl" or "the weak girl". Phoenix did a lot to rectify that, but it propelled the character forward; this, finally, gives her some background.

Of the other two stories, the Iceman one is the most forgettable. The George Perez art is certainly nice, but his tendency to draw everything possible in every panel hinders it a bit, as the whole thing is rather busy, especially in the scenes with snow falling. It's also hurt by seeming to suggest the setup of a new status quo for the character that never really materializes. The Nightcrawler story is essentially a prelude to his later miniseries (both in terms of tone and specific plot elements), and while my patience for the kind of swashbuckling whimsy that characterizes both stories is limited, there's no denying that Cockrum's art in this story is gorgeous, especially in black-and-white. I also have a soft spot for Vanisher, probably my favorite of the second-tier villains introduced in those early Lee-Kirby issues of the series.

But ultimately, it's the Jean Grey story that led me to this issue, and which remains the most notable thing about it. Even if it's just for a handful of pages stuffed into the otherwise-unrelated plot.

Next Issue
Regular X-aminations start back up, with Cable #1-2 and Excalibur #56.

18 comments:

  1. Cafe de Aviatrix is just about what you can expect from Claremont for a name of a cafe.

    Jean's yelling out "Scott!" as the last thing before passing out for the fog was likely written with the DPS finale in fresh memory.

    Sara's feelings here about the prospect of a life as a mermaid and later on Amanda Sefton's and Alysande Stuart's reaction to having tried the same things during the Muir Island battle kind of makes one ponder if Claremont is also into scuba diving besides the aviation.

    Duck-Nightcrawler and rat-Vanisher were hilarious in the corporational retrospect.

    I snorted lewdly when one of the ladies commented their high man-god turnover rate "They come and they go", considering what the intended role of the male visitors is in keeping the population up.

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  2. Regarding the memory-wipe, Dark Phoenix meets Jean's parents and Sara in UXM #136, and Sara makes it clear that that's the first time she's ever seen Jean in costume, as Marvel Girl or Phoenix, and that she was unaware of Jean's superhero career until that point. The memory-wipe was Claremont's way of preserving that continuity. John and Elaine, of course, knew about it since issue #109, and did NOT get their memories wiped.

    Gailyn and Joey, tragically, only outlive their mother by about twelve real-world years, as they, along with every other member of the Grey family except Rachel and Nathan, are slaughtered by Shi'Ar assassins in the "End of Greys" storyline. I remain furious with Claremont for the pointless cruelty of that decision, though I'm not entirely sure it wasn't editorially mandated.

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    1. Agreed about the twins being killed off - it struck me as editorially mandated "cleaning out" of the X-books, but it also cut off the story possibilities they had. It'd be a lot of pressure on them being related to Jean in any way, and some of the peripheral stuff made it clear that their father left Sara because they were mutants. You can do something interesting with those beats, but they decided to just waste them (in a couple senses) instead.

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    2. I hated the "End of Greys" story premise, but I loved the gimmick Claremont used for the slaughter issue, where the entire thing (if I recall correctly) was told in sixty panels where each panel represented one second, the entire issue being a minute long in total.

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    3. But the really weird thing about End of Greys was that it introduced a couple of siblings of Jean other than Sara that we'd never heard of just to kill them off.

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    4. Ah, yeah, I'd forgotten about Sara's comment in UXM 136. That does help the mindwipe business make more sense, and kudos to Claremont for catching that, but it does end up coming across overly-complicated/kind of silly, with the (necessary) "I forgot then but remember now!" stuff.

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  3. The three stories were republished in X-Men Omnibus #2, where I saw them for the first time.

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  4. So now I know why this issue is held in such high regard. I see it all the time at conventions and always wondered what the deal with it was. The cover is also pretty iconic and I see it all the time online. But aside from the Jean backstory it seems like almost a throwaway issue, so it's odd that it gets this much attention, especially since it came out right around the Dark Phoenix Saga, a much more impactful story.

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  5. Licinio Miranda beat me to it, but I'll echo him -- this issue is in UXM Omnibus 2, in the original black-and-white. (I believe the Iceman story was colorized for the X-MEN RARITIES book.) It was a huge surprise and kind of an exciting treat for me to discover a heretofore unknown Dave Cockrum Nightcrawler story when I picked up that volume!

    The Phoenix story has always bugged me a bit, but it's hard to articulate why. It just feels like Claremont being especially Claremonty, with this never-before-seen adventure of Jean and her sister fighting Attuma. It's not as egregiously awful as Storm finding a bizarre parallel universe while the group was in the Savage Land circa the "World Tour" issues as seen in CLASSIC X-MEN backups, but for some reason it still rubs me the wrong way.

    By the way, if you ever do another round of retro X-aminations, it just occurred to me that you might look into The Misadventures of Spider-Man and Nightcrawler via AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #161-162 (written by Len Wein) and MARVEL TEAM-UP #89 (written by Chris Claremont and also featuring Amanda Sefton and a cameo by Arcade).

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    1. The Phoenix story has always bugged me a bit, but it's hard to articulate why. It just feels like Claremont being especially Claremonty, with this never-before-seen adventure of Jean and her sister fighting Attuma.

      It's because it's essentially Claremont doing his bit for ATLANTIS ATTACKS eight years early, close enough to the era he was on his creative peak, and it ends up being pretty much as horrible as the rest of the event was; and with both Attuma AND the boat dudes being the way they are it's just way too rapey, and Jean's usage of the Phoenix power to cure her sister on the cellular level is quite an egrecious continuity implant, and Austin's mentioned living-in-undersea-is-just-like-on-surface-world just puts you off?

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    2. Regarding the continuity implant complaints, this story was supposed to appear in Marvel Spotlight before the Dark Phoenix Saga. But it got delayed, and so the framing sequence with Jean's sister at her grave had to be added.

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    3. @Matt: y the way, if you ever do another round of retro X-aminations, it just occurred to me that you might look into The Misadventures of Spider-Man and Nightcrawler via AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #161-162 (written by Len Wein) and MARVEL TEAM-UP #89

      I know I looked at the MTU story once upon a time for possible inclusion, but was back when I was still being a little bit more strident about what I was covering and what I wasn't. I'll have to check it out again (as well as the ASM story) for future inclusion.

      @Anon: this story was supposed to appear in Marvel Spotlight before the Dark Phoenix Saga. But it got delayed, and so the framing sequence with Jean's sister at her grave had to be added.

      Ah, that makes sense. Plus, it changes around the order of Jean waking up and crying out "Scott!". :)

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  6. Parallel world with M'Rin was great, Matt!

    The Phoenix story has been reprinted as well in some editions of the Dark Phoenix Saga trade.

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  7. The cover’s depiction of Iceman as translucent always strikes me as neat… but wrong. He gets coated with ice when he ices up rather than actually becoming it — at least until Uncanny #292. Even the “data log” and story in this very issue refer to it as a protective coating.

    A 2010 Dark Phoenix Saga hardcover collection reprinted the Phoenix story, per the GCD, while the Iceman one was reprinted in a 2012 hardcover along with his 1984 miniseries and, curiously, in the recent(-ish) Uncanny X-Men #600 in addition to that X-Men Rarities collection. Since the Phoenix tale is most important of the three in terms of continuity, its reprinting is most warranted for sure; the Nightcrawler one was penciled by Cockrum and features other members of the classic All-New lineup, however, so its apparent lack of reprinting — say, in a modest trade paperback with that 1985 miniseries and maybe “Kitty’s Fairy Tale” — is odd.

    I just checked to see if Jean had another sister, and she did, but since references point to a single issue in 2006 I’m not sure if she was actually established yet or if Claremont (1) simply mis-wrote or (2) intended to leave his options open / set something up with the caption here saying that Sara has come to visit the grave “of her youngest sister, Jean” (rather than “of her younger sister, Jean” or just “of her sister, Jean”).

    Bobby has “dumped” a girlfriend, whose name one of the other students, Francis, can’t even recall, “because she was too fickle” — and ends the story considering Francis’ offer of an introduction to a frosh in his dorm — which at the time suggested that he was the fickle one, but reads differently given his modern outing.

    Whoops. I had this page open for a couple of days but hadn’t refreshed it ’til now, to find mentions of the entire issue’s reprinting in an Omnibus. Good to hear.

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    1. Of course Claremont was pulling the same siblings, plural thing with Jean a decade before Mr. Sinister got around to slip his tongue to Scott about his "brothers", "you said brothers, plural", "I meant Alex, your brother". With the 'Attuma stealing brides' thing the whole story is like Claremont doing other people's stuff (which he's known to have done) but with time running backwards.

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    2. which at the time suggested that he was the fickle one, but reads differently given his modern outing

      Apparently (and this is something I only happened upon recently), one of the reasons Marvel outed Iceman was because there'd been a running fan theory that he was gay since at least the early 80s, with lots (on the surface circumstantial) examples to point to in defense of that theory, and I believe this story was one of them (which may be why it was included in UXM #600).

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    3. John Byrne has said there were jokes around the Marvel offices that Iceman was closeted as well, back in the seventies/eighties. So while I have no real problem with outing him, it seems odd to pick the obvious choice. I kind of think Beast would've made a better candidate. Plus, he'd even made a joke about it during the Morrison run, which could've been used as the basis for the revelation.

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    4. When there's the out-of-universe representation considerations in the play, picking up the most "non-human" character for the part wouldn't perhaps be the right way to go. Plus, if there ever was a single panel where Beast referred to himself as a "cuddly teddybear" or something, there just would be no end to that.

      And if memory serves me right, he did just that during the infamous Carol Danvers pregnancy shenanigans.

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