Friday, October 25, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #277 - June 1991

Free Charley
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), Scott Williams (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Gambit ambushes the Skrull-Starjammers while the X-Men attack their ship from the outside.  Meanwhile, Lila Cheney responds to the telepathic prompting in Deathbird’s head and teleports them to the Skrull’s secret location.  Deathbird is captured as the Skrull impersonating Xavier steals the telepathic powers of Xavier, Psylocke, and Oracle.  Lila teleports, then returns with the X-Men.  The Skrulls are defeated and Deathbird willingly gives up her crown to Lilandra.  Banshee informs Xavier of events on Earth, and after Xavier reads Storm’s memories, he realizes the Shadow King has returned.  Lila teleports the X-Men back to Earth.  Meanwhile, a Shadow King-possessed Colossus targets Stevie Hunter.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The special breed of Skrulls impersonating the X-Men and Starjammers are called “War-Skrulls” for the first time.  They discorporate after being defeated, leaving no answers as to their mysterious origins.
  • Xavier reveals that he’s been subconsciously influencing Deathbird since being captured, which explains how she knew to contact Lila Cheney, and then the X-Men, in the first place.
  • However briefly, this issue marks the first time Xavier meets Forge, Jubilee, Psylocke, and Gambit.
  • Another “sinister” Gambit hint:  He tells the Skrull-Starjammers that they can’t kill Banshee because he hasn’t learned Banshee's secrets yet.

We Get Letters:  The letters page announces the ongoing X-Men series for the first time.  The plan is for Chris Claremont to write both monthly titles.

Review:  This is Jim Lee’s final Uncanny X-Men issue, even though he’ll of course go on to do another year of X-Men issues.  It’s also the last Uncanny X-Men issue to feature Chris Claremont telling stories at his own pace without an inordinate amount of editorial influence.  The next issue begins the “Muir Island Saga,” which began life as a truncated version of a story arc Claremont intended to run until Uncanny X-Men #300.  Claremont probably wasn’t thrilled to see his long-term plans rushed to fit into a three-month crossover, or the idea of a more traditional X-Men with Xavier at the helm, but he seemed willing to stick around at the time.  He’s gone before “Muir Island Saga” is even finished, though, reportedly because he resented the idea that he could only script and not plot stories in the future.

Where does that leave this issue?  There don’t seem to be any obvious cracks beneath the surface, unless you count Xavier’s abrupt decision to return to Earth and take care of Shadow King.  As a reader, however, that scene’s kind of a welcome relief.  Rather than dragging the mystery out for even more months, Xavier’s given an opportunity to discover something’s wrong and then immediately declares he’s going to take action about it.  Remember how rarely we ever saw the X-Men aggressively deal with Mr. Sinister, the Marauders, Genosha, the Reavers, etc.  The X-Men aren’t really big on tying up loose ends, so it’s hard to complain about the team actually showing some gumption.  And the conclusion to the Skrull arc is also a lot of fun.  This issue has one of my favorite moments of this era, Gambit giving Gladiator “the whole deck” right into the gut (and notice that it's not "de whole deck"), so it’s hard for me not to get caught up in a little nostalgia.  Claremont also manages to give most of the characters something to do in the plot, and throw in little bits of dialogue that show he’s given some thought to everyone’s point of view (such as Xavier commenting that he doesn’t recognize most of these “X-Men”).  Lee and Williams’ art is also as dynamic as usual, and the colors still hold up fairly well, even if the book’s printed on terrible paper.  


cyke68 said...

Yep. Dug that "whole deck" sequence. Does it make a lot of sense for a pack of exploding playing cards to wallop Gladiator like that? Not really, but it's Jim Lee, so who cares.

So true about everybody getting something to do in this arc. The only characters who threaten to fall by the wayside are Wolverine and Psylocke. Still, given how much focus those two got in the preceding months, it's refreshing to see them take a bit of a backseat. Even then, Wolverine does get to take out the Xavier imposter and the plot pivots on his tip-off to Storm. And even though it wasn't actually her, Psylocke's radical changes and recent behavior effectively plants the seed of doubt as to her loyalties.

A lot of these space operas are so plot-centric that their characters are entirely interchangeable. On the contrary, this story is very much dependent on its particular mix of characters and their relationships with each other. Good stuff.

I also came away with a bit more of an appreciation for Forge. He'd been featured regularly for like 30 issues by now, but this is the first time we'd really seen him mix it up with a proper team. He brings a lot to the table and assimilates very quickly. And speaking of the team, I do wish we'd gotten a couple more adventures with this roster before the brief status quo was blown up again.

Claremontisms ahoy in these scripts! Among the more notorious:

"Much obliged, Jubilation."

"Bang. You dead!"

"You are mine, body and soul!"

"My crown. My burden." (And variations of "My _____. My _____." throughout.)

"Comes with the uniform."

"____ is good. I'm better."

"You took your best shot. Now it's MY turn!"

But hey. They're charming little mementos.

wwk5d said...

SO this really was Claremont final real issue on the title at the time. Not a bad way to go out, at all.

And this issue highlights why Lee was one of the best of the Image artists. Unlike many of the others, he actually know how to storyboard a plot and make it look visually exciting. With Liefeld or Macfarlane or Portacio, most fight scenes were nothing more than pin-ups that were strung together. With Lee, the action scenes flow together really well and fluidly, especially once the the X-men arrive at the Skrull's hideout.

cyke68 said...

YES, absolutely! Lee's storytelling wasn't the greatest in the world (of the Image guys, I'd probably give that nod to Silvestri), but his energetic renderings and well-choreographed action scenes more than made up for any shortcomings. We can forgive head scratchers like Gambit beating up Gladiator or a gravely injured Wolverine looking none the worse for wear after a brutal fight with Deathbird simply because his pages are so damn fun to look at.

If Liefeld gets any credit at all, it's as an exciting "action" artists, but Lee still has him licked, easily. It's the same unimaginative stagings over and over with Liefeld. Punch, kick, and the occasional dismembering. He always went to that same well (not to mention duplicating the same *scenes*) whether or not it made sense for the characters selected. Why is Cable slugging some henchman when he's toting a freaking gun bigger than himself? Oh, right, because Liefeld drew the same pin-up with Warpath six issues ago.

Portacio wasn't bad at this time, but still a distant second. Points to him for an interesting design aesthetic. (Until he stopped drawing backgrounds, I guess.)

Teebore said...

Man, I loved that whole deck maneuver when I read this as a kid. Still do. Great "f#&@ yeah!" moment (and I appreciate you pointing out the lack of phonetic accent in the line :) ).

Claremont also manages to give most of the characters something to do in the plot, and throw in little bits of dialogue that show he’s given some thought to everyone’s point of view

Which is really what he's great at (even moreso than his Claremontisms. Of which this issue, as cyke68 rightfully points out, is full). As true in this (his last full story) as in his earliest.

@cyke68: And speaking of the team, I do wish we'd gotten a couple more adventures with this roster before the brief status quo was blown up again.

Ditto on this. And on Forge.

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