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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #309

"...When The Tigers Come At Night!"
February 1994

In a Nutshell
Xavier reflects on his romantic past in the wake of Scott & Jean's engagement.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Dan Green & John Holdredge
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Professor X has a dream in which he grapples with his subsconscious, in the form of Magneto, regarding his reservations about Scott & Jean's upcoming marriage. He realizes that he's never had a healthy relationship, with his mother's abuse at the hands of his stepfather prompting him to seek out women he views as needing him, like Gabrielle Haller, or with built-in distance, like Lilandra. He then recalls his relationship with Amelia Voght, a mutant nurse with which he fell in love when he was most vulnerable, after being crippled by Lucifer, but who eventually left him for fear his plans involving the X-Men would lead to war between humans & mutants, and on whom Xavier briefly used his powers to make her stay with him, an act of which he is deeply ashamed. Magneto helps him realize through these reminiscences that he wants what he's never been able to have, and is taking it out on his students. Just then, he awakens as Jean covers him with a blanket, and he clears the air with her, making her promise him that she will love Scott forever, and accept his love in return.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue details the history between Xavier and the Acolyte Amelia Voght (the redheaded woman who serves as their teleporter), whose past together was first hinted at in issue #300. Here, it's revealed that the pair met and fell in love when Amelia  was Xavier's nurse following his battle with Lucifer, with Amelia returning to America and living with Xavier during his early planning days of the X-Men (after he was working with Jean but before he brought Cyclops to the school).

Their relationship ended badly when Amelia, fearing Xavier's plans for the X-Men escalate the conflict between himself & Magneto and between humans and mutants to open warfare, decided to leave him (not wanting to be involved in any such conflict). As she left, Xavier briefly reached out with his power and attempted to telepathically change her mind on the subject before stopping in horror at what he was using his power to do.


The fact that Xavier's subconscious takes the form of Magneto in this issue will later be implied to be an early manifestation of Onslaught, the entity created when a bit of Magneto's essence, accidentally absorbed by Xavier when wiping his mind in X-Men #25, merges with Xavier's repressed dark side

Lobdell seems to address the criticism that Xavier is suddenly referring to Magneto as "Erik" of late despite having never done so in the past, with Xavier saying that he no longer has the energy to engage with Magneto's attempts to control his own narrative (which isn't the best explanation - amongst other things, it seems like the time Magneto was working with the X-Men would have been a good time to drop Magnus as well) but the effort to provide an in-universe explanation is nonetheless appreciated.


Given the whole Erik/Magnus discussion, it's worth noting that Amelia refers to him as “Magnus” in the past.


As of this issue, Scott & Jean are getting married in two Saturday's. Given they just got engaged last issue, this suggests a really short engagement (and probably works better in the compressed timeline), but in reality, no wedding of the type Scott and Jean ultimately end up having could be thrown together that fast.

The annual Statement of Ownership lists the average number of copies sold in the last 12 months as 714,675 (down from 731,425 last year), with the total issues nearest to the filing date at 551,400 (vs. 605,900 the year before), which, while still huge numbers (especially relative today) continues to show an overall decline relative to the post-relaunch, pre-Image Exodus heyday.

A Work in Progress
This issue features a brief flashback to Xavier's experiences in X-Men Unlimited #1, which confirms that it was Magneto who rescued him in that issue.

Xavier notes that Magneto has possibly the most powerful mutation (presumably taking into account his larger ability to manipulate electro-magnetic energy, not just "magnetism").


Danced around a bit in the past, this issue confirms that Xavier's mom was abused by his step-father (Juggernaut's father; we already knew he abused Juggernaut as a kid).


Given some of the other retcons and recontextualizations going on in this issue, it's worth noting that the initial injury that led to Xavier's paralysis is still being attributed to the goofy-ass Lucifer.

Young Love
Xavier's history with women is recalled, with Xavier (via his subconscious-as-Magneto) at least self aware enough to recognize how skeevy his relationship with Gabrielle Haller was.


Along the way, Xavier points to Lilandra as a successful relationship, though "Magneto" points out she's an alien who lives light years away from him, so it's only barely clearing the bar of "good relationship".


Human/Mutant Relations
Amelia learns the term "mutant" from Xavier; she says that when she left the country, people were just calling them "freaks".


For Sale
This issue features an ad for the upcoming Fleer Ultra set of X-Men cards.


There's a full page house ad for the Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix limited series, which more or less serves as Scott & Jeans's honeymoon.


Another Universe takes out a full page ad for their Cyclops & Jean Grey wedding "reception', featuring actors cosplaying as the characters.


There's also an ad for exclusive videos of the animated series from Pizza Hut, which also include original comics (of the rough size and shape of the comics that would be packaged with action figures in the 80s) and round table interviews with various X-Men creators (these videos are how I learned the way "Nicieza" is pronounced).


Bullpen Bulletins
This issue features the first installment of "Marvel Vision", a recurring house ad sort of thing that Marvel uses to promote "hot" new titles and issues. Not coincidentally, it is laid out and looks a lot like similar types of pages from Wizard magazine at the time. Various versions of this sort of thing (eventually evolving into "title family" pages and recap pages), will be regular features for years to come, as Marvel attempts to increase some added value to individual issues (while also, of course, promoting their product).


It's in the Mail
A response to a letter confirms there is no support staff at the X-mansion currently, and also teases Hodge's involvement in the '94 Phalanx Covenant crossover.

Austin's Analysis
While probably not the best Lobdell Quiet Issue (it's tough to beat the relative quiet of #297, or the day-in-the-life-ness + proposal of #308), this is nevertheless one of my all-time favorites (helped in part by some gorgeous art from JRjr, arguably the best of his second run). At a time before the mid-00s rush to darken Xavier's character by revealing a series of sins in his past, Lobdell makes his contribution to that effort (at a time which, in general, we're seeing an overall darkening of Xavier). But where this retcon works is its scale: Xavier using his telepathy to, however briefly, alter the mind of a woman he loves, is certainly a big deal for him (and her), and a shame he understandably would want to bury in his subconscious, where it prevents him from getting too close to other women. At the same time, it's a sin not quite on the same level as, say, sending an entire team of X-Men to their deaths than wiping all memory of their existence from the world, including one of their brother's, who also happens to be one of Xavier's most devout students, and as a result, it works much better to make Xavier feel like a rich, three-dimensional character instead of just a jerk on a colossal scale.

Retcon aside, and though couched as Xavier's reaction to Scott & Jean's imminent wedding, this is ultimately a searing examination of Xavier's character overall, putting him in arguably the biggest spotlight since issue #161 explored his time in Israel with Magneto & Gabby Haller. It re-contextualizes his previous relationships, including his relationship with his mother. The brilliant choice of having Xavier's subconscious represented by Magneto also helps reflect his recent "darkening", while allowing him to once more verbally spar with his old friend despite Magneto's current debilitated state. The end result doesn't quite work as an explanation for Xavier's initial reservations about Scott & Jean's engagement (the ostensible starting point for the issue), but it is nevertheless an effective examination of Xavier's character that changes how we view him without completely destroying him, and a great piece of craft from writer & artist alike.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Haven makes a move in X-Factor #99. Friday, Wolverine fights Bloodscream in Wolverine #78. Next week: X-Men #29.

Collected Editions

24 comments:

  1. Wouldn't Amelia be quite a bit younger than Xavier? Wasn't Amelia portrayed as a "young woman" in the current comics?
    I assumed that Amelia was only in her 20s as an Acolyte.
    Xavier has to be somewhere in his 40s.
    Yeah....
    Maybe I'm wrong about Amelia's age, but artists certainly show her looking pretty young in the current-day continuity.

    It's true that Amelia was a nurse when her and Xavier were dating, so she couldn't have been younger than early-20s.

    This is coupled with the early issues of Lee and Kirby's X-Men, where Xavier admits that he has a crush on Jean Grey, who is a teenager when she joins the X-Men.

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    1. Yeah, I meant to point out the (unstated) similarities between Amelia & Jean, and how that offhand comment from issue #3 could inform the Xavier/Amelia relationship.

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    2. Once you accept that Xavier is younger than you would expect from the old felt-over-legs-on-wheelchair image, it's easy to give pass to Amelia. I like her depiction as a no-nonsense Acolyte who is absolutely not impressed by Cortez and she gives the air of a grown-up momma figure (compared to the younger in-their-early-twenties X-Men). That raises the question why exactly she is in cahoots with the Acolytes though, she's not of the "young soldiers" generation.

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    3. "Wouldn't Amelia be quite a bit younger than Xavier? Wasn't Amelia portrayed as a "young woman" in the current comics?"

      My No-Prize is that her powers renew her cells & slow her aging, kind of like Mystique's, since it's technically a form of shapeshifting.

      I'm kind of bummed Amelia never amounted to more, since I think someone who had apparently a lot of baggage who was searching for the right path for herself could be interesting as both a villain & an ally. Instead, she just kind of faded away, and I wouldn't be surprised if she'd been killed off at some point. This era has some characters that I (at least) look back on and wonder why they never realized just how much potential they had before they were scrapped.

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    4. @Mela: Amelia's apparent purge along with the other dregs of the 90s bums me out too. Most of the Acolytes were one-note characters, but she had potential. I mean, if Frenzy could get dusted off and used in some interesting ways, surely Voght could, too?

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  2. Back in the day this was a shark jump for me as retcons go. I might be more forgiving today, and the ideological triangle drama with Magneto may have potential, but making a third-rate 90's villain a retcon plug went badly down with me back then.

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    1. At the time, I think I was probably just happy to get some payoff to the "how does Xavier know Voght" mystery. Now, I have a hard time getting too worked up about it, since, as you say, it isn't like Amelia Voght gets brought up much anyway and this whole retcon is more or less ignored.

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  3. I didn’t remember that Marvel Vision had been used as a title for promo material before the separate in-house fanzine of that name came along.

    On a similar subject and adjacent to the Statement of Ownership, Bullpen Bulletins this month says Marvel published 160 titles in August 1993. The 14-chapter Maximum Carnage is also hyped, similarly emblematic of the period’s excess, and so is the X-Men animated series.

    // how sleeve his relationship with Gabrielle Haller was //

    You probably meant “skeevy” or “sleazy” because that doesn’t even work as Mad Libs. 8^)

    // (which isn't the best explanation //
    // (presumably taking into account //

    While I’m pointing out typos, I’ll note that neither of these parentheses got closed.

    I was skeptical of Amelia’s age too, given her youthful present-day appearance, but I'm more thrown by Xavier’s “How long has it been now? Five years? Ten?” remark — which in context could refer to the time elapsed (a) since Magneto rescued him from the snow (considerably more recent) or (2) since he dedicated his “entire life -- every waking moment” to, as he says, "trying to change the entire world" (likely much longer ago) to even possibly (c) since he met Voght (still too distant a point in continuity, really, but not something to be ruled out given Marvel’s famously inconsistent compressed timeline, although it’s the least obvious choice contextually on the page).

    My other big nitpick is that I don’t really see Magneto or Xavier himself going ”Ennnnt!”.

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    1. You probably meant “skeevy” or “sleazy” because that doesn’t even work as Mad Libs.

      Yeah, I wrote most of this post on my iPad on a plane, so that's why there's more than the usual typos. I cleaned 'em up, thanks.

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    2. Autocorrect doesn’t always do exactly what it says on the (metaphorical) tin, but I’ll probably get freaked out if/when it ever gets so predictive of the user’s intention that it does.

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  4. Did we know that Xavier had blond hair in his younger days? The full beard here surprised me because I can’t recall previous depictions of anything other than dark stubble.

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    1. We did, Marvel Saga reprinted parts from those early days stories from the old X-MEN issues #12-13 that had little blond Charles bullied by step-brother Cain.

      He was a regular little Steve Rogers in his blue suit.

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  5. I always wondered why Lobdell didn't take the obvious direction with Voght, the one that her appearance suggested: she was Magneto's Jean Grey. Make her the first student Xavier had, yes, but make her choice to leave being not the end of a love affair, but of her becoming an adult and choosing to walk away. Xavier can still try to change her mind telepathically, without it being as creepy as this came across when reading it. Voght aligns with Magneto because of this anyway, just position her as the rough draft for Jean and have Xavier's actions retroactively inform how he treated Jean. (I admit to do this, you have to retcon out the creepy thoughts he had about Jean, but I think we're better off without those anyway.)

    I mean, essentially this is already what Voght was in the story, it just didn't require them to be involved. I suppose the through line for Lobdell though was "Xavier's always had screwed up relationships, let's just give him another one." And again, you can still bring home the notion that Xavier interacts poorly with women by having him treat Voght the same way without her being his girlfriend.

    Hell, the OBVIOUS hook is he acted that way to try to protect her from the world the way he couldn't protect his mother, but that can't happen with them dating. This is a pretty good story, but with a little tweaking it could have been a really DAMN good story.

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  6. "As of this issue, Scott & Jean are getting married in two Saturday's. Given they just got engaged last issue, this suggests a really short engagement (and probably works better in the compressed timeline), but in reality, no wedding of the type Scott and Jean ultimately end up having could be thrown together that fast."

    I'm glad you brought up the timeline, because I wanted to mention this! (In case it hasn't become apparent recently, I love this sort of thing.)

    First off, early in the issue, Xavier says that "before last week" he would've said he and Magento were nothing alike, implying -- at least to me -- that Lobdell wants us to believe X-MEN 25 only happened a week ago. Obviously this goes against dialogue in other books; as recently as X-MEN 28, it was noted that two weeks had passes since UNCANNY 305, which took place during "Fatal Attractions".

    Now I don't think we know how much time explicitly passed between X-MEN 28 and this issue, but Thanksgiving was wedged in there someplace. My guess is that Thanksgiving took place within the same week as X-MEN 28, and this issue is a few days later, like Monday or Tuesday. I also read X-MEN #29 last night, and -- spoiler alert -- that issue explicitly takes place on a Thursday, with the wedding noted as being set for that Saturday. Thus, since Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, X-MEN 29 is set two weeks after that holiday, meaning the wedding is set for about seventeen days after the proposal.

    And based on all that, if you want to really extrapolate, we can deduce that by the time Scott and Jean tie the knot, it will have been approximately five weeks since the events of "Fatal Attractions". Five weeks in which the X-Men traveled to Genosha and battled Exodus alongside the Avengers, traveled to Japan with Maverick and took Sabretooth into the mansion, traveled to Los Angeles for a fight with Mister Sinister, celebrated Thanksgiving, learned the truth about Cable and Stryfe, came to terms with Sabretooth in the house, and (upcoming in X-MEN 29 and UNCANNY 310) attended a soiree at the Hellfire Club and threw a bachelor party for Cyclops.

    What does it all mean, you ask? Nothing! I just find it really interesting.

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    1. I just realized I never got to the point of my second paragraph, which is that I think we need to take the "before last week" line as Xavier indulging in some temporal hyperbole -- clearly he's in that sort of mood tonight, based on the "Five years? Ten?" comment Blam noted.

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    2. What does it all mean, you ask?

      That the X-Men lead very, very busy lives. :)

      Honestly, what stretches my suspension of disbelief more than all the huge events crammed into those weeks, is the idea of the wedding coming together that fast. Like, I don't know what it feels like to flit from major superhero crisis to major superhero crisis, but I do know what it's like to pick a caterer, choose a dress, find a florist, etc., and none of that happens in weeks' time. :P

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    3. Yeah. I’m tempted to just say, like, “Shi’ar technology!” but at least once upon a time Marvel was locked into its characters worrying about just that sort of thing amidst the major superhero crises. Even if the wedding came together crazy-fast out of desire or necessity we’d get dialogue showing that such an undertaking was very much on the minds of the cast. Although we are talking about an entire team of superheroes with multiple geniuses, at least one multimillionaire, government connections, and enough of a civilian network that all it really would take is a bit of lip service to let us know the writers knew how much planning was involved.

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    4. I was thinking the same thing -- money talks, and the days of the professor asking Angel for loans are long gone. He must have come into his full inheritance since those halcyon Claremont/Cockrum days, because he generally seems a lot wealthier at this point than back then -- plus, as we'll learn during the lead-up to "Age of Apocalypse", Archangel isn't as destitute as we had been led to believe in the pages of X-FACTOR. He still has the house in New Mexico, as seen in UNCANNY 306, and we'll see soon enough that he also apparently has a nice nest egg. (Pun intended? You decide!)

      So I figure with Charles Xavier and Warren Worthington throwing money at them, the wedding planners, caterers, florists, and everyone else jumped to attention and worked around their other commitments. Plus, since the wedding is held at the mansion, there's no need to reserve a venue!

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    5. I do agree with Blam, by the way, that there was a time when the lead-up to a super-wedding would be filled with several sub-plot pages in a number of issues -- but at the same time, the last time Cyclops got married, the proposal and ceremony happened within pages of each other in the same issue! (Though that story didn't make explicit how much time passed between those pages, of course...)

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    6. Maybe this takes place before Uncanny Annual #17, and the wedding could come together so quickly because Mastermind just projected everything as a favor, what with his regrets brought on by the legacy virus causing him to be very contrite.

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    7. Impossible, since Colossus was a part the team during that annual but is with the Acolytes at the time of wedding.

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    8. Oh well. There goes my no-prize.

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  7. No-prize attempt: Xavier metally breaks up an anonymous bride and groom-to-be 17 days before THEIR wedding, and the caterers, etc. just show up Saturday anyway. Then all they need is her dress, which "unstable molecules!"

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