Friday, May 20, 2011
X-amining X-Men #109
In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight Weapon Alpha
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Andy Yachus
Editor: Archie Goodwin
The X-Men return to the mansion and quickly separate to enjoy their downtime. Storm tends to her plants as Jean meets with her parents to discuss her transformation into Phoenix. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure watches the mansion. In his room, Nightcrawler arranges a date for the evening while Colossus writes a letter to his family. Teleporting downstairs, Nightcrawler finds Cyclops brooding and attempts to cheer him up, only to be interrupted by Banshee's invitation to join he and Moria on a picnic. Cyclops and Nightcrawler decline, but Storm, Wolverine and Colossus join the couple. At the lake, Wolverine stalks a deer, but is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Weapon Alpha, sent by the Canadian government to bring him home.
The two fight, with Weapon Alpha's battle suit holding its own against Wolverine. Their battle spills out of the woods to the lakeshore, where the other X-Men are picnicking. They quickly come to Wolverine's aid, giving Weapon Alpha pause. When one of Weapon Alpha's force blasts ricochets off of Colossus and hits Moira, Banshee flies into a rage, quickly overpowering Weapon Alpha. Unsure if his suit can hold out against the combined power of the X-Men, Weapon Alpha retreats, vowing to return. Though Moira is alright, Wolverine knows this attack was just the beginning.
Firsts and Other Notables
Weapon Alpha (James MacDonald Hudson, who will later go by the codenames Vindicator and Guardian) appears for the first time. He is wearing a high-tech suit that enables gives him force blasts, a force field, and the ability to fly. Later stories will reveal a complicated history between him and Wolverine (hinted at here, with Wolverine's assertion that they were once like brothers), with Hudson and his wife discovering a feral Wolverine shortly after he received his adamantium skeleton and nursing him back to humanity, and later recruiting him into Canada's Department H.
Weapon Alpha mentions Alpha Flight, the first reference to Canada's premiere super hero team (they will make their first appearance about a dozen issues from now).
This is the first issue to exclusively cost thirty-five cents (the last few previous issues were published in both $.30 and $.35 versions).
A Work in Progress
Between this issue and the last, the X-Men appeared in Iron Fist #15 (in fact, that issue reads almost like an issue of X-Men (especially odd considering it is the last issue of that title), done as it is by Claremont and Byrne, with the X-Men fighting Iron Fist in one of those classic Marvel mix-ups, then attending a party at Jean's New York apartment before returning to the mansion in this issue; as a result, I'll mention some significant moments from it throughout this post). Wolverine appeared in that issue wearing his purloined Fang costume, before changing out of it in this issue. Reportedly, Dave Cockrum intended for the Fang costume to be Wolverine's permanent new look but Byrne hated it, and changed Wolverine out of it at the first logical opportunity.
Wolverine gets a wonderful bit of characterization in this issue as he expresses his desire to go hunting and Storm admonishes him for wanting to take a life out of sport rather than need. He explains that killing takes no skill and he merely intends to try and get close enough to a deer to touch it without spooking it, and Storm apologizes for misjudging him. To which Wolverine scoffs and says he doesn't mind, since everyone is always misjudging him. It's one of the early defining moments of his character and has stuck with me since I first read it, often coming to mind as an example of the complexity (and coolness) of Wolverine.
Storm's attic bedroom, full of plants, is seen for the first time.
Phoenix recalls the events just prior to the X-Men's return to Earth, and we see Lilandra declared the eventual Empress of the Shi'ar, and Shi'ar Lord Araki appears for the first time (though he goes unnamed). We also see Corsair asks Phoenix not to tell Cyclops that he is Cyclop's father, and that Storm overhears their conversation.
In Iron Fist #15 Nightcrawler walks undisguised down the street, telling Colossus he will no longer use his image inducer (though I believe it'll pop up again).
Later in that issue, Wolverine threatens Iron Fist with unsheathing his third (middle) claw, a technique we'll see again, though in this case, humorously, Wolverine's two extended claws actually go under Iron Fist's mask.
A testament to how action packed the last dozen issues have been, this is the first time we've seen the X-Men at their mansion (barring the hanger, in which the X-Men battled Eric the Red in issue #105) since issue #96.
That 70s Comic
Check out the threads on the X-Men as they come home.I especially like Scott's turtleneck.
Nightcrawler heads into the city to see Star Wars, and compares himself to a Wookiee.
Weapon Alpha claims his suit is the ultimate product of Canadian technology...I'll leave that one alone out of respect to our Canadian readers.
Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Colorist Bonnie Wilford and Dave & Paty Cockrum appear at Jean's party in Iron Fist #15.
Nightcrawler heads out for a night on the town with Amanda, the stewardess he met in issue #98. Colossus turns down fellow stewardess Elisabeth's offer to double date, preferring instead to crash Sean and Moira's picnic.
Also, Nightcrawler is using an old school phone which, to any kids reading this for the first time today, probably looks positively antique ("omigod, what's that curly string hanging off the end of his cell phone?").
Upon returning to the mansion, Banshee plants one on Moira, the first time we've seen them kiss.
In Iron Fist #15, Wolverine is essentially stalking Jean, hanging around outside her apartment and getting angry about her feelings for Cyclops.
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
While Jean talks to her parents about her transformation, Cyclops broods, and this actually leads into a nice exchange between him and Nightcrawler where Nightcrawler basically tells him to lighten up because his life could be worse: he could look like Nightcrawler, and Nightcrawler still manages to enjoy life.
Heh. "Ding-a-ling Family"...
John Byrne on the Origins of Weapon Alpha
"According to Byrne, the character was originally called the Sentinel and was Byrne's youthful attempt at designing a national hero for his home country; by the time he was dusted off for publication in X-Men, a character named Captain Canuck had seen print Canada wearing a costume very close to Byrne's original Sentinel design, so, as he explained in The Art of John Byrne, 'I went totally away, forgot everything that I had ever done with it, and came up with the wraparound flag image.'"
Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 30.
"I had designed most of the members of Alpha Flight as fan characters. The idea for that story came from Dave [Cockrum]. Dave had mentioned to Chris that the Canadian government probably wasn't real happy that Wolverine - who had cost them $6 million or whatever - had gone off and joined this American superhero group. So they would probably send somebody to get him back. When Chris told me that, I said, 'Oh, we have to do that story, and here's the guy.' I wanted to call him 'Guardian' in X-Men #109 because that was his name as a fan character, taken from a line in the Canadian national anthem: 'We stand on guard for thee.' But Shooter said we couldn't use 'Guardian' because of the Guardians of the Galaxy. So Chris called him 'Weapon Alpha' in his first appearance, and later 'Vindicator', which he got from a cool airplane. Anyway, as soon as I got Alpha Flight their own book, I decided that we were not going to call him 'Vindicator' anymore Canada doesn't have anything to vindicate."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p103.
After wrapping up an ongoing storyline last issue, John Byrne's first standalone issue of X-Men casts fellow Canadian Wolverine in the spotlight for the first time, following up on a plot thread from Giant Size X-Men #1 and introducing Canadian hero Weapon Alpha (while laying the ground work for Alpha Flight). Upon being assigned X-Men, Byrne made it a point to increase Wolverine's profile in the book and shine the spotlight on one of Marvel's few Canadian characters. For really the first time, this issue shows us the duality of Wolverine's character that has since helped make him so popular: the honorable man with a bestial side, the stark loner who is loyal to his teammates, a product of science that yearns for the natural world, etc. Really, Wolverine's future popularity starts with this issue.
But it's a strong issue for characterization all around. Like issue #101, the focus is mainly on the characters' interactions with one another (the Wolverine/Weapon Alpha fight reads very much like a throwaway bit to satisfy the conventions of the time, though it is very well done). After so many issues of nonstop action and plot, Claremont slows things down, and in one issue explores the core new X-Men in the greatest detail yet: Colossus misses his home and family, Storm feels uneasy in the modern world, film buff Nightcrawler remains lighthearted and romantic, heading into the city for a date, and it turns out Wolverine has unplumbed depths after all. One of the strengths of the Claremont/Byrne run (and one of the reasons it is so acclaimed) is the attention it paid to characterization, and this issue is a perfect example of that.