Wednesday, February 19, 2014

UNCANNY X-MEN #280 - September 1991


One Step Back -- Two Steps Forward
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert w/Steven Butler (pencilers), Inks-R-us (inks), Joe Rosas (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Lois Buhalis (lettering assist, not credited)


Summary:  Xavier arrives on the remains of Muir Island to discover Marvel Girl has telekinetically protected her teammates from Legion’s explosion.  The possessed Legion attempts to kill Xavier, but is chased away by Storm.  The heroes split in two -- one group will sever Shadow King’s link to the physical realm and the other will protect Xavier as he fights Shadow King in the Astral Plane.  During Xavier’s battle in the Astral Plane, Shadow King shatters Xavier’s back, crippling him.  Meanwhile, Forge forces Psylocke to use her psychic knife on Polaris, which breaks Shadow King’s connection to the physical realm.  Shadow King disappears, but Legion is left in a coma.


Continuity Notes:  
  • According to Xavier, there “isn't much left of Muir Island."  Not that any giant explosion has ever had a real impact on Muir Island.
  • Colossus has suddenly arrived on Muir Island in-between issues.  Rogue is also wearing a different outfit once again, as she’s back to her tattered clothing from UXM #274 (!).
  • Xavier arrives with two SHIELD psi-operatives, DeMarco and Heacock.  They’re killed by the possessed Legion.
  • Rogue comments that Polaris has shrunk after she’s rescued from the Shadow King’s “psychic magnifier” device.  This ends her period as a super-strong female bodybuilder, which has never received an in-continuity explanation as far as I know (even though we do have some idea of Claremont’s original plan.)


Review:  Considering the behind-the-scenes chaos that was going on at the time, this is a better conclusion than I would’ve expected.  The story does get dragged down by more repetitive scenes of the heroes fighting brainwashed heroes (including another uninspired Wolverine vs. Gambit rematch), but that isn’t as large a part of the issue as I remembered.  In reality, Nicieza does a credible job bringing everything to a close, keeping track of most of the massive cast while also leaving enough room for Xavier to be the star of the issue.  His first-person narration isn’t quite a match for what Claremont was able to accomplish in the previous issue, but the sentiment feels genuine and the scripting is true to Xavier’s character.  Nicieza’s strongest moment is when he introduces Xavier’s fear that Legion legitimately enjoys being under the Shadow King’s thrall, and that it might just be Shadow King who’s cured Legion of his schizophrenia.  That’s the kind of character work that’s usually forgotten in these densely packed crossovers, and it’s a relief to see such a Claremont-esque idea show up so soon after his departure.


What doesn’t work about the issue isn’t too hard to guess.  There are too many characters, many aren’t properly introduced, and the conclusion to this giant battle that’s been teased for literally years occurs over the course of a few panels.  Apparently, all that was needed for the Shadow King to fall was Psylocke to stab Polaris with her psychic knife -- which means Psylocke was so weak as a telepath that she couldn’t fight off the Shadow King’s influence, but did possess enough power to ultimately defeat him.  Okay, then.  The most irritating aspect of the issue would be the crippling yet again of Professor Xavier, which is such an obvious play to nostalgia that it’s hard not to roll your eyes.  This is an early sign of the Bob Harras “Back to Basics” approach, which sees nostalgia trump even rudimentary plot development.  There’s no great story following Xavier’s injury -- he just goes back to living in a chair (albeit in a space-age one designed by Jim Lee.)  There’s no compelling reason for the X-Men and X-Factor to rebuild the school and live together again -- it’s not as if they show even the slightest interest in treating it as a school for the next few years.  There was never much of a reason for the fully-grown Peter Parker to suddenly act like a teenager again in the late ‘90s either; but hey, those old stories are classics, which means they must be milked for all eternity.  There is a time for “Back to Basics,” as evidenced by the late ‘90s revamps of books like The Avengers and Captain America, but there has to be more to the concept than simple nostalgia.

21 comments:

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

There’s no compelling reason for the X-Men and X-Factor to rebuild the school and live together again -- it’s not as if they show even the slightest interest in treating it as a school for the next few years

Great point. When the only reason you can give is "editorial mandates back to basics", you've got a problem, story-wise. Even if that is the ultimate reason, you need some kind of in-universe motivation to set it up.

This story did a reasonably effective job of closing out Claremont's last big lingering storyline, but it really did nothing to setup the big line-wide reorganization, which is a shame.

Matt said...

Huh, all these years and it never, ever occurred to me that there was no reason for all these characters to move back into the mansion together. I just sort of accepted it and moved on. But now that I consider it, it is a little odd that we have a bunch of (by this point) twenty-somethings living in a "school" together, none of them students and none of them with day jobs! I mean, I guess being X-Men is their job, 24/7, but it still feels weird. If the citizens of Salem Center didn't think Xavier's was a peculiar place before...!

(And the strangest is Archangel, who, even after he regains his fortune, continues to crash in someone else's house for years!)

Now I'm worried I'll never be able to go back to thinking this isn't weird!

wwk5d said...

"This story did a reasonably effective job of closing out Claremont's last big lingering storyline, but it really did nothing to setup the big line-wide reorganization, which is a shame."

In hindsight, I'm not sure effective is the right word. Perfunctory, maybe? As much as I loved the PAD epilogue issue, I do feel that there needed to an issue or 2 depicting these people discussing why they were doing what they did.

"And the strangest is Archangel, who, even after he regains his fortune, continues to crash in someone else's house for years!"

He does end up being shown having an apartment in Manhattan a few years later, no? I wonder if it's the same one the Morlocks kidnapped him from...

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

@Matt: we have a bunch of (by this point) twenty-somethings living in a "school" together, none of them students and none of them with day jobs!

And aside from Jubilee, there's no real students, either, so it isn't like the X-Men can claim to just be teachers at this point, like they can at various later points in the series (a development I always appreciated for just that reason).

Matt said...

wwk5d -- "He does end up being shown having an apartment in Manhattan a few years later, no?"

True, though I don't believe that came about until after "Onslaught", while he was shown to have plenty of money shortly before "Age of Apocalypse". And he subsequently continued to live in the mansion afterward, too. I got the impression the apartment was just his "place in the city", while the mansion was still his primary residence.

wwk5d said...

I think it shows up before Onslaught...don't we see Storm and few of the others playing poker in one issue?

But you are right, it was more "Warren's place in the city" as opposed to his primary place of residence...

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure Warren and Psylocke hang out in his New York apartment at some point pre-AoA, and then again pre-Onslaught (including Psylocke' recuperation from Sabretooth's attack during that whole "Crimson Dawn" fiasco).

Matt said...

Yeek, you guys are right. For some reason I thought Psylocke's near-death experience and recovery were after "Onslaught", but I now recall they came before. My mistake!

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

Clearly, nothing is more memorable and straight-forward than the loopy, byzantine continuity of the post-Image, early 90s X-Men (he says with genuine love in his heart). :)

G. Kendall said...

"And aside from Jubilee, there's no real students, either"...

And Jubilee disappears for several issues right after the school is built. The only X-Man who conceivably needs to be in school was dropped from the book...why exactly?

Jason said...

"Huh, all these years and it never, ever occurred to me that there was no reason for all these characters to move back into the mansion together. I just sort of accepted it and moved on. But now that I consider it, it is a little odd that we have a bunch of (by this point) twenty-somethings living in a "school" together, none of them students and none of them with day jobs! I mean, I guess being X-Men is their job, 24/7, but it still feels weird."

I'm not sure I follow the logic for why it's weird. You've said specifically that their job is being X-Men, which doesn't pay anything, so where would they live if not Xavier's mansion? Why is a mansion a weirder place to live than, for example, Apocalypse's ship? Don't the Avengers all live together in a mansion too?

Xavier's School is a secret headquarters for a superhero team.
It seems odd to start questioning the premise of the X-Men starting with issue 280.

I also don't really agree that the way to X-Factor's resynthesis into the X-Men isn't adequately paved. They started setting it up in X-Men 273 ... all that talk about how it doesn't make sense that they're split into different teams anymore. But they're also lacking a guiding leader to unify them. Then Lila Cheney shows up and teleports the X-Men to Charles Xavier. We all knew where it was going, didn't we ... ? Charles would return and reunite the teams.

X-Factor 70 by PAD also makes this all pretty clear: The allusion to Yeats, "the center cannot hold," the talk of how without Xavier, the X-Men couldn't hold together ... but now he's back. So.

I dunno, maybe I was too easily manipulated a reader, but it all seemed perfectly clear to me.

Besides, what else was keeping the teams from merging into one? First it was all the "mutant-hunters"/Scott-dumped-Madelyne animosity, all resolved during "Inferno." Then it was that the X-Men wanted to continue operating covertly from their Outback base even post-Inferno (one can see why the X-Facs didn't want to joint them).

With the Outback scenario done with as of the Siege Perilous scattering, and with the "X-Men are dead" cover blown after the media coverage of X-Tinction Agenda, there really was no reason for the teams not to remerge in X-Men 273 ... but they didn't because Lila kidnapped the X-Men and left X-Factor on Earth.

I didn't really see why X-Factor *wouldnt* re-assimilate at the point they did.

Am I crazy?







wwk5d said...

Even if Lila hadn't shown up, the teams still wouldn't have merged in # 273. Lila showed up after they all made their decisions.

cyke68 said...

I think the X-Mansion's role is questionable in relation to some arbitrary headquarters like the Baxter Building because it always fulfilled some objective that was pretty well intrinsic to the (current) direction of the series. Why live in this old family home in upstate New York rather than a secret enclave somewhere closer to the action like proper superheroes? Well, in the Silver Age, it's because the mansion was a school. It had outlived its usefulness in that regard by the end of the original series' run, but the influx of new, inexperienced members alongside just a couple of mainstays allowed it to be retooled as a training ground. By the time the threat of obsoletion loomed once again, the team was openly acknowledging their decreased dependence on the mansion. So, it was back to basics with the introduction of the New Mutants. In serving as guardians for their young charges, the X-Men had a good reason for staying put for a little while longer.

The adult X-Men eventually did move on, and rightly so, in the aftermath of the Mutant Massacre. Then the New Mutants struck out on their own. Then Mr. Sinister blew the damn place up. That logically should have been the end of the mansion's story. Even after the Outback stuff had run its course, a reunited team could have settled down anywhere. There wasn't a mansion to go back to! (Well, excluding a super sophisticated, well-equipped series of sub-basements, apparently.)

It was a school with no students and a training ground for people with years of combat experience. Like the X-Men themselves, the mansion just didn't really stand for anything post-Claremont. As a team of interchangeable superheroes doing superhero-y things, there was no justifiable reason for their base of operations to be the mansion. Like Harras' vision for the line, it just "felt right." Fair enough I guess, and the early issues of Adjectiveless are delivered with enough energy to carry you over these potholes. But it's some "fridge logic" that doesn't really hold up on re-reading.

(And yeah, what is with Jubilee disappearing, then reappearing, without explanation between X-Factor #70 and X-Men #4? I don't think we can claim she was otherwise occupied with something in Wolverine's book since he seemed to be able to pull double time just fine.)

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

@Jason: For me, it's less the idea of X-Factor and the X-Men reintegrating that doesn't make sense (it does, as you say), nor the fact that they're headquartered in a mansion (which is superhero standard), but the fact that they're explicitly working out of a school, when they're not teachers, they have no students, rarely train in the Danger Room anymore and make no effort to seek out new mutants.

Why bother putting them in the school if you're not going to do anything with the idea, other than "that's how it was in the good old days"? What exactly separated the mutant strike force of X-Men/Uncanny X-Men from the one in X-Force, beyond vague notions that one was somehow gentler than the other?

It's one of the reasons I liked the way they renamed the schools shortly before Generation X launched, giving the "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" name to the place where mutant students would actually be going to school, and renaming the X-Mansion the "Xavier Institute for Higher Learning" which makes it sound like some kind of think tank rather than a school populated entirely by twenty or thirty somethings that never actually do any schooling, and helps excuse the adult X-Men from taking in/mentoring/teaching young mutants at their headquarters.

Matt said...

Jason -- "I'm not sure I follow the logic for why it's weird. You've said specifically that their job is being X-Men, which doesn't pay anything, so where would they live if not Xavier's mansion? Why is a mansion a weirder place to live than, for example, Apocalypse's ship? Don't the Avengers all live together in a mansion too?"

What I was trying to get at, though looking back I see that I failed to convey it other than in a brief side-comment, is how weird it must've seemed to the neighbors. There's this old mansion which, at one time, was a "school for gifted youngsters". Fine. For most of that time it was populated by teens and folks in their early twenties. Then it burned down or something and was deserted for a couple years. Okay. Then it was rebuilt and a ton of twenty-somethings moved in with the guy who owns the place. They come out to Salem Center occasionally, have a drink at Harry's Hideaway, but they tend to keep to themselves. And some of them just seem like really strange people.

If I lived near that place, I'd be hard-pressed to think they weren't a cult or something!

Nonetheless, the above does not detract from my enjoyment. I just find it odd, in-universe. I consider it different from your examples mainly because the mansion is the X-Men's secret headquarters. When X-Factor lived in Apocalypse's ship, they were a very public team. Likewise for the Avengers. Traditionally, the Avengers who live in the mansion are those with no secret identity or who need a place to crash for a while. But either way, Avengers Mansion is the very publicly known address of the Avengers.

The X-Men, meanwhile, are using a semi-public school as their "secret" headquarters, which just seems odd to me. Again, though, I'm probably overthinking it. And no one should listen to me anyway, because even as odd as I find all the above, I've also been miffed for over a decade that Grant Morrison "outed" the school.

I do like, as Teebore noted, that they eventually changed the place's name to reflect that it wasn't exactly a school anymore. That was long overdue at the time.

Jason said...

I should say, in absolute terms, I am no great fan of the X-Mansion. Twice Claremont seemed to be trying to get them out of that place, when he destroyed it in 154 and relocated the team to a creepy Lovecraftian island in the Bermuda triangle -- then again with the Outback.

Both those locations felt much more right thematically -- an isolated, desolate and somewhat foreboding location for a team of "outcasts." I loved the X-Men in the outback and dislike them being in a cushy mansion while they whine about how "the world will never accept us."

My only point here was that it's not *particularly* weird to see the concept return in 1991 than it was at any other time. Disappointing, yes, if you liked the Outback (which I did), but it makes as much sense here as anywhere else.

(The idea that it's a "school" was always weird. Especially in the Silver Age, where the X-Men "graduated" in X-Men #7.)

"Even if Lila hadn't shown up, the teams still wouldn't have merged in # 273. Lila showed up after they all made their decisions."

After the X-Men had. X-Factor, who knows what they would have done. I seem to recall Scott and Jean having a talk about "Is it possible to go home again?" that wasn't resolved before Lila showed up.

" What exactly separated the mutant strike force of X-Men/Uncanny X-Men from the one in X-Force, beyond vague notions that one was somehow gentler than the other?"

One was filled with horrible, Liefeld-created characters. :)
You are right, although I always thought that was a flaw in X-Force, which was supposed to be the more "badass" team but in reality acted just like the X-Men.

"It's one of the reasons I liked the way they renamed the schools shortly before Generation X launched, giving the "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" name to the place where mutant students would actually be going to school, and renaming the X-Mansion the "Xavier Institute for Higher Learning" which makes it sound like some kind of think tank ..."

That is cool. Although I'm biased because I just love the phrase "think tank." But you're right, way cooler. As I said above, I think the "School for Gifted Youngsters" was *always* a crap name right from Day One (not least because "Gifted Youngsters" sounds like something you'd call a bunch of smart 8-year-olds, not super-powered 17-year-olds).

"What I was trying to get at ... is how weird it must've seemed to the neighbors ... If I lived near that place, I'd be hard-pressed to think they weren't a cult or something!"

In that case, I'm 100% agreed. And again I point back to the Silver Age, where as early as X-Men #5 by Stan Lee, you had Jean's parents commenting on how it's kind of a weird school. "How can he afford to run it with only five students?" "He must be independently wealthy and run the school as a lark."

I realize that's not the same as thinking it's a cult, it's interesting that as early as #5, Lee was having people comment in-story on the weirdness of the premise.

Jason said...

"The X-Men, meanwhile, are using a semi-public school as their "secret" headquarters, which just seems odd to me. "

Agreed. Again, my main point was just that it didn't suddenly *become* odd in UXM 280.

Another thing, again in X-Men #5, is how Magneto's Brotherhood is actively searching for the X-Men's "secret headquarters," which of course doesn't work in the light of the later retcon that Magneto always knew Professor X's real name. But it doesn't REALLY even work then, since Stan Lee established that Xavier was a world-renowned intellectual and public figure. For the average person, maybe they wouldn't guess a connection between Xavier and the X-Men, but Magneto and the Brotherhood should have.

"I've also been miffed for over a decade that Grant Morrison "outed" the school."

Well, that's just silly. :) I loved when Morrison did that, for all the reasons we've been talking about!

cyke68 said...

I'll concede that it didn't feel weird to see them all back at the mansion in X-Men #1, through nothing else but process of elimination. Stranger was the choice for them to gather back there after X-Tinction Agenda in the first place. After all, Ship was right there. Cable and the New Mutants had been palling around with X-Factor anyway before settling back in at what was left of the mansion before the crossover. Maybe all that's missing was some token acknowledgment that Ship had better accommodations, but the urgency was in retrieving/securing certain assets (Cerebro) still tied to the mansion. Then Lila nabbed Storm's team and Ship blew up, leaving the mansion as the only viable option.

Editorial mandates aside, I think Uncanny #373 did a better job of reintegrating the teams than the Muir Island Saga. Scott and Jean pretty much talked as if they were X-Men again and only half-heartedly resumed X-Factor's status as a separate unit. The Claremont-scripted X-Factor #65-65 continues that line of thinking, with the team basically identifying as X-Men during the training sequence (which itself felt like an out of place callback to the past). It was pretty doubtful they'd continue going their separate ways for long.

Count me as a fan of the split Gifted Youngers/Xavier's Institute. I always took the "Higher Learning" part to imply a university setting, with open ties to the revamped Xavier's School in MA. But I was also glad to see Morrison finally just out them.

wwk5d said...

"Maybe all that's missing was some token acknowledgment that Ship had better accommodations"

I think there was, and that it would be more safe.

I wonder if the writing was on the wall that early, that Harras had planned on re-integrating X-factor into the X-men that early?

"Scott and Jean pretty much talked as if they were X-Men again and only half-heartedly resumed X-Factor's status as a separate unit."

Yeah, but CC always seemed to write the originals was wistfully looking back on their time as X-men that way, it may as well have been a Claremontism.

The move might have been a bit better handled had the school been renamed as the Xavier Institute once Cyclops and the others rejoined...but that only seemed to be viable once Generation X started.

Jeff said...

I'm with Jason, it doesn't seem any odder than normal to me. It's a bunch of people who in the past few years have had their mentor beat and taken into space, been altered by Apocalypse, had loved ones get killed and reborn, faked their own deaths, been split up all over the globe and been possessed by the Shadow King. I feel like they established that the teams were feeling nostalgic for the "old times" now that things were relatively back to normal. You can read that as too strong of an editorial comment, but I think it's valid in terms of the story.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.