Monday, October 21, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #276 - May 1991

Double Death
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), Scott Williams (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Patrick Brosseau (letters)

Summary:  Gambit and Jubilee stop Xavier from executing Deathbird, which attracts the attention of the remaining X-Men.  Xavier’s guards have already placed Gambit and Jubilee in custody before the X-Men arrive, but Wolverine discerns something’s wrong when he finds Jubilee’s earring on the ground.  He strikes and kills Xavier.  Psylocke incapacities Wolverine, while Lila Cheney teleports Deathbird and the rest of the X-Men away.  Lila takes them to the decimated planet of the P!ndyr, which Deathbird claims is just one of Xavier’s victims.  Soon, the team is attacked by the Starjammers.  Deathbird and Lila abruptly teleport away.  Meanwhile, Jubilee and Wolverine discover the real Xavier and Psylocke are the Skrulls’ captives.  A Skrull named Prime adopts Xavier’s identity and telepathically brings Lilandra under his control.  

Continuity Notes:  
  • Gambit implies to Jubilee that he’s dressed as a hero so he feels obligated to play the part.  Another hint that he might not be as altruistic as he seems.  The Skrull-Xavier comments that Gambit's thoughts are “like quicksilver” and are difficult to pin down.
  • This issue confirms that Xavier (or at least his Skrull impersonator) is the “Warlord” that Lila Cheney was running from months earlier.
  • Gambit isn’t shown with Jubilee at the end, but his presence is hinted at earlier, as we see a mystery hand playing Solitaire onboard the Starjammer’s ship.
  • Skrulls traditionally cannot take on the powers of the superhumans they impersonate.  The creators get around this by having the aliens use a giant macguffin device that allows them to absorb mutant powers into a matrix and imprint them on a special breed of Skrull (later identified as “War-Skrulls”).

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Both Wolverine and Jubilee are (tastefully) nude when they’re thrown into the Skrull’s matrix.

Review:  As you would expect from a Chris Claremont comic from this era, it’s a densely packed story filled with a few dozen characters, the team is split apart, there’s a little bit of mind control, and villains are masquerading as heroes.  It’s not a quick read, but the story absolutely maintained my interest as a child, and as an adult I’m able to appreciate it on a different level and pick up on little bits I never noticed before (like that mystery hand playing Solitaire, for instance.)  For a young reader not familiar with all of the cheats that a comic writer can employ, reading the opening half of this issue was a bizarre experience.  I had a strong suspicion that Xavier wouldn’t turn out to truly be a villain, but seeing Wolverine kill him, and then Psylocke turn on Wolverine and the X-Men team up with Deathbird just made this story feel like a very big deal indeed.  

All of the little character bits also helped to draw me into the world.  Maybe Gambit’s jokes are covering his true motives?  Is Jubilee right; has Psylocke been waiting to double-cross Wolverine all along?  Forge even gives a poetic soliloquy about the veneer of civilization and the horrors of war.  Like I’ve said before, I loved this stuff as a kid because I didn’t feel as if I was being spoken down to, and even if this chapter is largely devoted to getting the characters in place for the climax, it still feels like actual care was placed in crafting the story.  And even assuming that all of those words bored some kids, Jim Lee’s art had to get some kind of reaction out of them.  Not only are all of the characters beautifully rendered (to the point that every single female character vaguely resembles early ‘90s Cindy Crawford), but the spacecrafts, guns, and alien technology are very ambitious for a mainstream comic of the era.  Since the bulk of the audience had no idea Lee was drawing much of his inspiration from anime, that had to make this material even more impressive.


j said...

man that is a great cover

jim lee was something before he decided he'd rather be an executive than draw comic books

cyke68 said...

Re-read this arc the other day myself. The storytelling can be a little clunky in places, but it demonstrates that Claremont can still construct an entertaining yarn that holds your attention throughout. And you're right, these issues are NOT quick reads -- densely packed with narrative captions and heavy on dialogue. It's definitely to Lee's credit that the sheer abundance of words isn't as much of a drag on the energy and forward momentum as one would think in casually paging through the comic.

I think I was about 15 when I first read this story (in the "Crossroads" trade). Something I breezed right over back then that really stuck out to me as an adult: Jubilee--never--fucking--shuts--up. I know that's kind of her point, but wow does it serve to make her an insufferable, unlikable character. There's never really been a point in my history when Jubilee wasn't a pretty big part of the franchise. Consequently, I guess I never understood why she was so hated well into the '90s. With a fresh perspective, I can totally see how obnoxious this new character would have come across to existing readers.

Gambit and Jubilee combining their powers to great effect was a cool touch. One of those innovations you don't see anymore in today's depressingly bland "fight choreography." (Gambit in general just really shines here. "Playing the part of the hero" he may have been, but if I wasn't invested in his character before, his actions in this story definitely sell me. Even if I don't particularly admire him, but I'm interested to see where he's going. Under Claremont, at least.)

wwk5d said...

"Gambit implies to Jubilee that he’s dressed as a hero so he feels obligated to play the part. Another hint that he might not be as altruistic as he seems."

And we get another ominous comment from him next issue...ah, I really wish Claremont had stayed, just to see how his version of Gambit would have played out.

"Both Wolverine and Jubilee are (tastefully) nude"

As was Psylocke last issue when she was captured ;)

I appreciated, even as a kid, what Claremont was doing with Jubilee. She was there for fill the Kitty Pryde role, but I liked that Claremont made it clear should wouldn't be a Kitty clone. Jubilee was written as annoying, but I liked her and what she brought the team.

As for this still holds up really well, but in hindsight, it does have 2 tropes Claremont would beat to death later on in his returns to the X-universe: mind control and X-men vs. X-men. Granted, he did use them previously in his runs on Uncanny and New Mutants, but they were still rather fresh at this point and not beaten to death.

All in all, as Claremont's real final storyline on Uncanny, not a shabby way to go.

cyke68 said...

There have been so, so many theories surrounding Gambit's intended origin that I've lost track of which came from Claremont himself and which were solely fan speculation. I believe Claremont has contradicted himself over the years, leading me to think it was not quite set in stone from the character's first appearance. The prominent ones I can recall:

-He was a spy working for Mr. Sinister
-He WAS Mr. Sinister in a new form
-The Third Summers Brother
-Longshot given a makeover by the Siege Perilous (despite him never entering the SP)
-Exactly what he appeared to be on the surface

I know Claremont once said that Gambit was meant to be a frequent guest star, but never an actual member of the team. This is where the last theory comes into play. Perhaps Claremont hoped for him to have broader appeal, a difficult endeavor if he were to immediately become mired in the X-Men mythos. Even through all his permutations over the years (and under the weight of his own convoluted mythology), he's still versatile enough to work independently of any mutant (or even superhero) trappings; I can see how Claremont might have had him pegged as a solo spin-off character from the get-go.

As for the whole Sinister connection: Claremont has also stated that Gambit and Mr. Sinister were planned as two sides of the same coin. It's widely acknowledged that Sinister was to have his basis in the kid (Nathan) who used to bully Scott at the orphanage from his childhood. And this kid was actually some extremely long-lived, powerful mutant whose body was slow to age and therefore had the appearance of an 11-year-old boy. Sinister was his proxy, an archetypal embodiment of a child's concept of the evil Boogeyman, monster in the closet, whatever.

On the flip side of that was going to be Gambit, a dashing, heroic adventurer. Of course, attitudes on what qualified as "heroic" had shifted a bit by 1991. Iconic heroes in the Silver Age tradition were way out of fashion. Maybe Gambit's purpose was to serve as some kind of meta commentary on that phenomenon. It would account for his conflicted nature -- looking like a walking collection of all the superficial anti-hero traits, but pulled in the direction of the old fashioned good guy by the very objective of his creation.

It makes the most sense of any idea I've heard concerning the connection between Gambit and Sinister. I have no idea where Claremont would have gone with all of this. Or how independent Gambit and Sinister were meant to be from Nathan. In any case, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the Guild nonsense we ultimately got. (Claremont took this in a totally different direction in X-Men: The End. I'm guessing he would have offered yet another take on Gambit's backstory had X-Men Forever stuck around longer.

wwk5d said...

"-He was a spy working for Mr. Sinister
-He WAS Mr. Sinister in a new form"

I think these were the only 2 Claremont mentioned.

The Longshot idea was just pure fan speculation, while the third Summers brother idea was just something Claremont offered years after he left the title, and the first time he mentioned it was during X-men: The End.

I do think Gambit was supposed to be just Nate projecting his (ie a child's) idea of what the perfect hero was (good looks, athletic, attractive to the ladies, wisecracking banter, etc). So in a way, he WAS something of a spy that would betray them...

cyke68 said...

Yeah, the Longshot thing was an extremely telegraphed red herring. The "Third Summers Brother" was apparently just Nicieza trolling the readership. (I really don't believe he had any plans to do anything else with that, but started dropping all those hints with Adam-X once he realized how worked up fans were getting over a fleeting statement made by an unreliable speaker.) I guess people just wanted to connect the dots, since they were already drawing some (strained) comparisons between Gambit and Cyclops.

Funny thing is, Claremont kind of went with that in X-Men: The End, in a roundabout way.

And you're right, the competing Sinister theories aren't necessarily mutually exclusive if the whole dichotomy deal is to be believed. I'd still like to know what the end game would have been. Claremont never really elaborated on any future plans beyond "Dark Wolverine" and his version of the Muir Island Saga.

Jason said...

A friend of mine had a great fan-theory based on that bit toward the end of "Inferno" when Longshot is the last X-Man standing to challenge Mr. Sinister at the end X-Men 243, going into X-Factor 39.

He suggested that bit of heroism really impressed itself on Sinister's mind, so that when the Child Nathan Proto-Sinister (whatever you wish to call him) decided to create a "hero persona" to challenge the Sinister part of his personality, he gave him a name, powers, and look all loosely based on him.

I always liked that idea.

Teebore said...

I've always really enjoyed this story, in part because at the time I was getting into comics, it was the one part of the Jim Lee run that was affordable enough for the a kid to pick up as back issues.

The early Lee stuff (Acts of Vengeance, #268, X-Tinction Agenda) cost an arm and a leg, but this stuff I could get. As I result, I read it a lot and really came to enjoy it.

@wwk5d: She was there for fill the Kitty Pryde role, but I liked that Claremont made it clear should wouldn't be a Kitty clone.

I have always appreciated that: same role within the team, but still a different character in her own right.

@Jason: so that when the Child Nathan Proto-Sinister (whatever you wish to call him) decided to create a "hero persona" to challenge the Sinister part of his personality, he gave him a name, powers, and look all loosely based on him.

Wow, I really like that idea too.

Anonymous said...

Underage nudity, huh? tasteful. sure.

cutie patootie said...

It wouldn't be hard to convince me this whole arc was just to get a tied up nude Jubilee.

Oh, that Claremont and his kinks.

Heh heh. Oy.

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