Wednesday, July 31, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #274 - March 1991

Credits:  Chris Claremont (script), Jim Lee (plot/pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters), Joe Rosas (colors)

Summary:  Magneto, Rogue, and Ka-Zar defeat members of the Savage Land Mutates, who now serve Zaladane.  Eventually, they meet Nick Fury and his SHIELD team, who have arrived to stop Zaladane from erecting more of her magnetic towers.  Rogue convinces Magneto to stay with the SHIELD team, even though one member is the father of a sailor killed by Magneto years earlier.  Meanwhile, Lila Cheney brings the X-Men to a mysterious location, where they’re quickly captured by a tentacle monster.  Deathbird appears, announcing that she needs the team to kill Charles Xavier.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Cyclops and Marvel Girl meet Guido for the first time, in a brief scene that has him recapping what happened at the end of the last issue.
  • Rogue has lost her powers, following her trip through the Siege Perilous.  Magneto has attempted to revive them by “(reintegrating) her bio-matrix,” but she remains powerless.
  • Magneto sunk the Russian submarine Leningrad in Uncanny X-Men #150 after being fired upon in retaliation for his scheme to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
  • This issue marks the first hint of a romance between Magneto and Rogue, as he feels an unusual “connection” to her after she wakes him up from a nightmare.
  • Magneto is straining to use his powers, but keeping it a secret from his companions.  I don’t recall Claremont stating a reason for Magneto’s weakness at the time, but years later he’ll address it in X-Men Forever.

“Huh?” Moment:  Magneto suddenly carries around a hologram generator for the purposes of this story.

Miscellaneous Notes:  The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 412,961 copies, with the most recent issue selling 404,300.

Review:  I would be curious to know how Jim Lee received a plotting credit this issue, while Chris Claremont is relegated to merely “script.”  The standard belief is that Jim Lee demanded more plot input as his run continued, and according to some sources, would often ignore Claremont’s plots in favor of whatever he felt like drawing that month.  If this issue was plotted entirely by Lee with no input from Claremont, that would make it one of the very few issues of Uncanny X-Men during his run that had him scripting over someone else’s plot (and putting Jim Lee in the odd company of Bill Mantlo and Tom DeFalco).

Jim Lee as a plotter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.  He’s not overly ambitious at this point, which works in his favor.  He’s assembled an engaging cast of characters and he’s giving them room to bounce off of each other, and he’s resolving a plot line that’s been dangling for several months.  With the exception of Magneto spontaneously generating a hologram of himself, none of this feels as arbitrary or sloppy as those early Image comics.  Structuring the story so that Magneto keeps running into victims of his past behavior, starting with the Savage Land Mutates and ending with the father of a young sailor he killed, is quite ingenious.

The highlight of the issue, however, has to be Claremont’s first-hand narration of Magneto.  Perhaps if Claremont plotted the issue alone, he would’ve diverged from the simple setup and developed a more elaborate scheme for Zaladane, or jumped back and forth between five different subplots.  When left to narrate a relatively simple story of Magneto and an ad hoc team of allies tracking down Zaladane, he’s free to get inside Magneto’s head and continue the rather remarkable exploration of the character he began a decade earlier.  Magneto as the repentant villain, the Holocaust survivor, the father, the man whose life is stained by blood; this is fascinating material.  Even when Lee draws a simple panel of Magneto electromagnetically bombing a group of Zaladane’s brainwashed followers, Claremont uses it to elucidate his guilt and reflect on the mercy Magneto wishes he could receive, the peace of forgetting the actions of his past.  This was heavy material for a ten-year-old, but I wasn’t intimidated by it.  Issues like this made the characters feel real to me, and I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t being spoken down to.


wwk5d said...

Interesting that Claremont had nothing to do with the plot this issue. It's actually a really good one. So does this mean the whole Magneto/Rogue relationship was something Lee came up with?

No wonder Claremont finally gives up and quits a few months later. Whatever the backstage drama that was going between Claremont/Lee/Marvel comics, it did lead to some good issues, but I can see why he felt the need to move on.

(Granted, there doesn't seem to have been much bad blood between Claremont and Lee, since they did collaborate a few years after Claremont left on WildCATS).

Teebore said...

Issues like this made the characters feel real to me, and I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t being spoken down to.

Here here! Couldn't agree more.

I love this issue and the next, for the Magneto stuff. Claremont's Magneto is just such a fascinating, well developed character, and these two issues really do a nice job of putting a cap on all that.

Jeremy said...

wait a minute when did you start reviewing GOOD X-Men comics?

Anonymous said...

I doubt Claremont would've held any ill-will towards Lee for wanting to co-plot. He was used to collaborating with his artists (or, at the very least, tailoring his scripts to their strengths) so I can't see this being taken as a slight. Of course, I'm sure ceding more and more control to Lee was dredging up bad memories of the Byrne days and by 1991, he wasn't up for that kind of fight anymore. Especially when reading the writing on the industry wall. The way I've always understood it was Claremont was essentially pushed out by Harras and his relationship with Lee was a bit of a sore spot/collateral damage. If that's the case, any resentment towards Lee likely would've faded over time since he really wasn't the bad guy.

More meta messages: does anyone else feel the preceding few issues read like Claremont finally "forgiving" Scott and Jean? Much has been made of the personal frustrations Claremont was experiencing at any given time making their way into the books, but I think it's overlooked how he might've taken these out on the characters as well. It seems like part of the reason people HATED Cyclops in particular for so many years is because Claremont himself really committed to his shortcomings as a character. He may have had his original "happy ending" story wrested out of his hands, but boy did he ever sell the crappy portrayal of the unrepentant deadbeat Scott became instead.

In similar situations, it seems like most writers will nudge (or even shoehorn) characters in the direction they personally want them to go even after they've ceased being the primary architects of their stories. Far from trying to rehabilitate Scott, though, Claremont just runs with it. (That job would largely be left to Louise Simonson.) And, by extension, Jean. Maybe it was nostalgia or the realization that he was reaching the end of the road, but Claremont seems to rediscover a bit of fondness for his old favorites here and in the previous issue. He sort of draws a line under their current status and makes peace with their various unsavory developments. Just goes to show how "real" these figures were in his mind.

Teebore said...

@cyke68: Far from trying to rehabilitate Scott, though, Claremont just runs with it. (That job would largely be left to Louise Simonson.)

I dunno...I feel like Claremont more or less ignored Scott once he wrote him out of the book. Simonson definitely did the yeoman's work on rehabilitating him, but that's mostly because he featured in the book she was writing.

Now, Claremont certainly salted the earth when he wrote Scott out in issue #201, but I've always interpreted that as him saying, "You're going to write him as a cad in X-Factor? Fine. He's all yours, and I'll send him over to you all ready to be a complete and utter jerk."

Everything I've read suggests Claremont hated the idea of X-Factor, both for bringing back Jean and for what it did to Cyclops, but I think once it happened and he did what he needed to do to set up the character for it, he moved and did his best to ignore it, until Simonson got involved, started fixing the character, and then they ultimately worked out "Inferno" to finish the job.

Jason said...

Prosaic plot point: I believe Magneto's weakness in this issue is explained as the result of Zaladane's evil plot. Once she's defeated next issue, Magneto is right as rain. Although he's weakened again in X-Men #1, this time as the result of being wounded by Wolverine.

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