Friday, August 9, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #275 - April 1991



The Path Not Taken!
Credits:  Chris Claremont & Jim Lee (story/pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Glynis Oliver & Joe Rosas (colors)


Summary:  The Starjammers arrive and rescue the X-Men from Deathbird and the Imperial Guard.  Meanwhile, in the Savage Land, Colonel Semyanov ambushes Magneto.  Semyanov then abandons Nick Fury’s UN command and joins Zaladane.  Rogue, Nick Fury, and Ka-Zar make their way to Zaladane’s citadel, where she is stealing Magneto’s powers.  They interrupt the process, allowing Magneto to use Brainchild’s equipment and regain his powers.  Magneto kills Semyanov, and even against Rogue’s pleas, kills Zaladane.  He abandons his former allies, determined that kinder methods will not save mutants.  Later, after Lilandra is restored to the Shi’ar throne, Psylocke is attacked by a mysterious figure, while Jubilee and Gambit accidentally catch Xavier torturing the imprisoned Imperial Guard.

Continuity Notes:  

  • Colonel Semyanov is the father of the Russian sailor slain by Magneto years earlier (Uncanny X-Men #150).  He reveals this issue that the Russian members of the UN team were always assigned to kill Magneto.
  • Ka-Zar remarks that dinosaurs in the Savage Land are evolving faster than ever and becoming too smart, following the High Evolutionary’s restoration of the area.  I don’t believe this plotline was ever expanded upon.
  • Banshee wonders why Gambit always asks questions of the other X-Men, but reveals nothing about himself; another hint that he’s a spy.
  • During a montage of tragic moments from Magneto’s past, one of them includes him fighting the Shadow King.  This is the first time Magneto’s ever been connected to Shadow King.  Later, while listing all of the current threats to mutantkind, Magneto names “the Hellfire Club and their accursed Shadow King.”  When the Shadow King storyline is finally resolved, at the end of Claremont’s run, the Hellfire Club are nowhere to be found.  Apparently, Claremont was developing a Magneto/Hellfire Club/Shadow King storyline, but this issue is the only evidence I have to support the theory.
  • Rogue’s powers conveniently return while fighting Zaladane and the Savage Land Mutates.  She tells Magneto that his process did work, he just should have been more patient.

Gimmicks:  This barely counts as a “gimmick,” but this issue marks Uncanny X-Men’s first gatefold cover.  There are no enhancements on the cover, though, and the additional fifty cents added to the standard cover price are for sixteen extra pages.

Review:  Speaking as someone who bought this issue as a kid, this really did feel like an event.  I can’t think of any other double-sized anniversary issue I own that feels like it truly merits the hoopla associated with reaching a multiple of 25.  I was also young enough at the time to at least briefly consider if the cliffhanger ending of the story was true; could Xavier be a villain?  I dismissed the idea after I considered that the character had existed since the early ‘60s, and couldn’t imagine Marvel radically altering an established hero’s personality like that.  (How little did I know…)  In retrospect, the storylines it’s resolving haven’t been around for too long, and there’s still the massive Shadow King subplot simmering in the background that needs to be addressed, but reading the issue today it still feels as if it’s worthy of the extra pages.  

Probably the most remarkable element of the story is Claremont’s ability to give every member of the cast something to do.  That doesn’t mean that every Starjammer or Imperial Guard member gets the spotlight (and poor Lila Cheney is left without a single line of dialogue), but the actual X-Men all have at least one moment to shine.  Even if it’s a brief moment of Storm questioning why Deathbird’s plan made no sense, it’s significant because we’ll find out next issue why Deathbird abducted the team, and it exposes the true villain of the piece.  It’s just a quick dialogue exchange, but it establishes how sharp Storm is, and foreshadows upcoming events in the story.  And Storm’s the X-Man who receives the smallest amount of attention in the issue.  Every X-Man aids the story in some way, or is given some moment to express an aspect of their personality.  Compare Forge’s awed wonder at experiencing an alien culture for the first time to Jubilee’s annoyance at the way these things look (and smell), for instance.  Now, think about how rarely any X-Men story post-Claremont utilized the cast so well. 
And it's hard to imagine any writer matching Claremont's work with Magneto during this arc.  Magneto's monologues during this storyline are absolutely haunting, as Claremont fulfills Magneto's journey from villain to failed hero to...who could even say?  A damaged man who isn't willing to play the old games any more, but is too powerful and iconic to ever truly abandon his past.

Jim Lee’s art also serves the story extremely well.  There’s a fair number of splash pages and double-page spreads, but Lee is just as skilled at using multiple panels to tell the story.  Zaladane’s death scene is twelve panels, for instance, all one page.  It doesn’t feel cramped at all, and in fact serves to heighten the tension between Rogue and Magneto during the scene.  Lee’s penchant for hyper-detailed characters is also put to use, as we see just how alien, or outright gross, characters like the Starjammers or Savage Land Mutates could be.  I remember being shocked at Lee’s ability to take an innocuous looking character like Worm and make him look outright disgusting in this issue.  Lee could actually be as good at monsters as McFarlane, but apparently he’s never let go of this Gulf War-era military design work.  It’s what he always seems to go back to, but he could embrace horror just as easily.

11 comments:

Jeff said...

This issue is great. Really, I can't think of a bad Claremont/Lee issue (and honestly, if we go by Lee drawn issues of the period vs non-Lee issues his input to the plots was clearly helping Claremont creatively, even if Claremont didn't think so). One of my favorite periods of X-Men.

The Shadow King/Magneto tease is one of the greatest lost Claremont plots, in my opinion. I really wish we had gotten to see the resolution to that once, but the Muir Island Saga is not the most satisfying wrap-up by any means. Claremont's said in interviews it would have basically been Shadow King/Hellfire Club/Reavers vs Magneto and the X-Men which would have been awesome.

Having said that, X-Men #1 was the first X-Men comic I ever bought when I was 9 and it's one of my favorite stories of all time (nostalgia helps). And without all the backstage turmoil we never would have gotten it.

Teebore said...

And it's hard to imagine any writer matching Claremont's work with Magneto during this arc. Magneto's monologues during this storyline are absolutely haunting, as Claremont fulfills Magneto's journey from villain to failed hero to...who could even say?

Agreed. I absolutely love these issues for the work done with Magneto. Such a fantastic culmination of Claremont's work on the character, perfectly setting the wonderful and sad coda for Magneto (and Claremont) in X-Men #1-3.

As Jeff said, I mourn the loss of the big Hellfire Club/Shadow King Magneto/X-Men/death of Xavier storyline. I've definitely heard Claremont talk of it before in interviews (it also involved the whole plot with Wolverine dying and being reborn as a hand assassin). I think you're right that this issue is the only place any inkling of that storyline is setup in an actual issue of the series, though.

wwk5d said...

Ah, Claremont's aborted Shadow King/Wolverine storyline...I believe whatever he had planned, he had planned the storyline to go on until Uncanny # 300. And yeah, there are lots of interviews with him about what he would have done had he continued the title. Would have been interesting to see. Certainly better than the Muir Island Saga mess we got. Starts strong, but just falls apart. Though the Peter David X-factor epilogue issue is really good.

As for this issue...it's a classic. A good end to Magneto's arc that started in #150. And the 2 storylines are done really well. Claremont and Lee, whatever was happening behind the scenes, just did some really strong work together.

And I'm probably one of the few who will admit it...but I liked this team line-up. Kind of random, but a nice mix of Second Genesis, post Mutant Massacre, and newer characters. I was kind of sorry to see this line-up jettisoned a few months later.

wwk5d said...

Also, here's a link to the full cover, for those interested:

http://uncannyxmen.net/covers/uncanny/uncanny275.jpg

Teebore said...

@wwk5d:And I'm probably one of the few who will admit it...but I liked this team line-up.

I do too, for the reason you mentioned: it's a nice mix of characters from different eras of the book. All it really lacks, of course, is one of the originals.

Anonymous said...

Oh I'll fess up, I dug this line-up too. I even liked the blue and gold costumes. Generic though they were, I think that was precisely the point at this stage. We hadn't seen a proper, defined team for the better part of two years! It was important to convey that this albeit ragtag bunch of characters was a unit. The look keenly evokes the motif of the original five, and mirrors what Whilce Portacio was doing in X-Factor contemporaneously. Lee is shrewd in adding some individual flourishes too: Forge's moccasins and bionics, Jubilee has her signature earrings and shades, Gambit keeps the trench coat and, uhmm... that head frame, Banshee with the high collar and his... underarm... ribbons? Anyway, there are enough little touches like that to keep it from coming off as too generic. Neat.

I can understand the need for all the costume redesigns that debuted in X-Men #1. Still, I appreciated a few of these jumpsuits sticking around for lesser characters who lacked much in the way of clear visual identities or as a transitional fallback. I thought sticking the captive X-Force members in them during X-Cutioner's Song was especially inspired.

The portrayal of Magneto throughout this arc is a perfect bridge to the character we will see for Claremont's swansong. Once again, it's Claremont taking an entirely artificial, editorially mandated change and making it seem organic. We'd seen this before with Cyclops and Madelyne, and it's a real credit to Claremont's professionalism that he's able to sell these unsavory characterizations with such conviction. That's a valuable asset Marvel lost when Claremont bailed. I have a lot of affection for the Chromium Age, but there's no question that its manufactured events FELT manufactured. Sometimes, you enjoyed being taken for that ride; other times, they were less successful. Look no further than Fatal Attractions for a total inversion of Claremont's Magneto example.

With the Savage Land storyline concluded, I'm curious to know how Claremont would've brought Rogue back into the fold, had the X-Factor merger not taken place. Colossus too, assuming he would've been reintroduced more or less within the time span it actually occurred. Really, X-Men Forever should've picked up right after this space opera (but that's an altogether different discussion).

Anonymous said...

(Cyke68 here and above. Stupid Blogger keeps dumping me.)

Dan Lichtenberg said...

About X-Men Forever...

Never read it, always wanted to.

It was solicited as occuring right after X-Men 1-3 (jettisoning everything after). From what I've read about it, this was not what saw print, and it apparently made some continuity changes that go back to before the reunification of the X-Teams (Cyclops and Maddy's kid was still around, etc). Can someone briefly explain to me what this series actually entailed?

cyke68 said...

RE: X-Men Forever-

The first issue or two are transitional, and follow on the heels of X-Men #1-3 somewhat naturally. (Which is a little odd, considering #1-3 was itself a transitional arc.) Then it goes completely off the rails, dumping the blue/gold divisions and writing out a ton of characters. Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Kitty are brought back in. Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, and Nightcrawler take some very bizarre turns. Sabretooth kind of sort of joins the team. A bunch of characters get killed off. Basically, it's Claremont going totally nuts because he has carte blanche over not only the core X-books, but the entire Marvel Universe (it's just an alternate reality, who's gonna nix anything?). To say it's simply what Claremont would have done had he not left in 1991 is disingenuous because there's no way he would've had the freedom to cut loose like that. Plus, we already know what he was planning for future events. He's gone on record extensively in interviews over the years. I suspect he had little interest in pursuing those stories after pulling the curtain back so much already.

And yes, he does retcon things that happened prior to the cut-off without explanation. For instance, Nathan Christopher was living with Scott's grandparents in Alaska and Storm was still an adolescent. (The adult Storm that appears in the first few issues turns out to the an imposter/spy). Not to mention bizarre arbitrary things like Gambit's real name becoming "Remy Picard." (Even if LeBeau wasn't canon at the time. I can't remember.) Almost all of the Jim Lee costume designs are abandoned too. It sounds like a minor thing, but that was one of the series' selling points (and they looked pretty good under Grummett's pen).

So basically, it invalidates its premise right out of the gate. Reads more like a glorified "What If" than a nostalgic recreation of a particular era. Still, an interesting experiment and a better fit for Claremont than pretty much any of his other contemporary works.

Teebore said...

Yeah, what cyke68 said...

It definitely wasn't what it was sold as: less a continuation of Claremont's run than him just playing with the X-Men (and the greater MU) in his own little sandbox.

What bothered me the most (once I got past the fact that we weren't going to see the stories Claremont had talked about doing if he hadn't left the book, which is what I was expecting) was how so many of the arbitrary changes occurred without explanation.

Nightcrawler and Kitty rejoin the team, with no mention of the fate of Excalibur or really much of an acknowledgement that they'd been gone from the X-Men for a good chunk of time.

I'm pretty sure "LeBeau" hadn't been established as Gambit's name by X-Men #3, but the most irritating thing about "Remy Picard" was that everyone was just casually using it, like we'd known it all along.

And even beyond the fact that Claremont eliminated the pre-departure "Nathan goes into the future" story (that Claremont himself wrote), the odd part was that he also increased Nathan's age to the point where he was roughly ten years old, with no explanation.

So yeah. Not a bad series in and of itself (though it fizzled out towards the end, and suffered a bit from "What If?-itis" in that big, significant changes happened in a manner that you know never would have happened if the story wasn't set in an alternate reality), but it very quickly became something other than what it was advertised to be.

Dan Lichtenberg said...

@Teebore/cyke68 -

Holy lord, that sounds awful. I had read about a couple of those plot points but had no idea it was so messy. What a shame, such a missed opportunity.

The first issue or two are transitional, and follow on the heels of X-Men #1-3 somewhat naturally. (Which is a little odd, considering #1-3 was itself a transitional arc.)

I wondered about that. The 1991 new X-Men relaunch introduced new costumes for most of the roster. Why on earth would they get dumped three issues later? I've seen pictures of the X-Men Forever costumes. Interesting, but far removed from what Jim Lee was doing. They look like 70's designs to me.

So basically, it invalidates its premise right out of the gate. Reads more like a glorified "What If" than a nostalgic recreation of a particular era. Still, an interesting experiment and a better fit for Claremont than pretty much any of his other contemporary works.

So frustrating. That's great that Claremont got to play with his toys, but what was the point? The target audience for something like this was probably a bit narrow to begin with; why alienate them (as well as anyone else) by making the whole thing incomprehensible, continuity wise?

Nightcrawler and Kitty rejoin the team, with no mention of the fate of Excalibur or really much of an acknowledgement that they'd been gone from the X-Men for a good chunk of time.

I'm pretty sure "LeBeau" hadn't been established as Gambit's name by X-Men #3, but the most irritating thing about "Remy Picard" was that everyone was just casually using it, like we'd known it all along.

And even beyond the fact that Claremont eliminated the pre-departure "Nathan goes into the future" story (that Claremont himself wrote), the odd part was that he also increased Nathan's age to the point where he was roughly ten years old, with no explanation.


That almost makes me angry, actually. Gambit's name wasn't revealed until Bishop called it to his face (I'm assuming no Bishop here, right? This book essentially becomes the "only" X-book?) Why change the name? Because someone else got to name Gambit first and Claremont was mad, I guess. Seems petty and stupid.

Kitty and Nightcrawler coming back was kind of a big deal when it happened. Why not acknowledge Excalibur? Or the rest of the MU at the time? Why trash it or ignore it? Claremont was always one of the better guys for trying to keep the MU as cohesive as he could when no one else cared. Why screw it all up? Imaginary or not, the readers are supposed to be reading this as something that followed X-Men 1-3. It's not a What If.

And the X-Factor / Nathan bit... wow. Did he assume the Muir Island Saga didn't happen, or happen differently? The kid was aged with no explanation?

I'm a lifelong fan of Claremont's X-Men work but wow... so bad here.

Sorry for the rant. Thank you very much guys for the explanation, it's the best one I've ever gotten. I had been wondering why it had been so hard to find a simple description of the series and what it contained... well, I guess now I know why.

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