Monday, December 21, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 3: X-Men 99

X-Men #99 (June 1976)
"Deathstar, Rising" 
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Frank Chiaramonte

Doug: Welcome back, as we wind our way through the first epic in the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Let's get right into this installment, in which the team discovers that all is not what they thought with Dr. Steven Lang and his Sentinels!

Karen: I remember when this issue came out how annoyed I was with the color errors on pages 1, 16, and 17 - what should have been red was purple, what should have been yellow was blue, and so on. The worst thing though was that X-Men was still bimonthly! I would re-read issues a dozen times over before the next one came out!

Doug: Banshee's face on the splash page is just vintage Cockrum. We've said before that Dave's work was very distinctive, yet somewhat hard to put a finger on as to why. For me it's always the faces.

Karen: There's something about his style that is very rounded, graceful; and yet, he pulls off the technical stuff, like the space shuttle, very well.

Doug: I'll have to admit that I had to read page 2 twice. Call me dense, but the columnar lay-out got me the first time. Made a heck of a lot more sense once I figured out the panel order. And hey, I've always been one of those readers who thought the directional arrows some artists use are insulting to my intelligence. Joke was on me here, though!

Doug: But anyway, can any of you physics experts out there explain to me why our three heroes weren't sucked inside out by the vacuum of space? Unless I missed it, when they burst through the hull of the carrier in the last issue they were not wearing any transuits (that's in the Legion, right?) force fields, etc. So by the time the Sentinels got out there to envelop them in the bubbles it should have been too late.
Karen: Yes, even as a kid I knew better. I guess we just have to suppose that the sentinels got there pretty darn fast. And a good thing too, because I would hate to see inside-out mutants!

Doug: How about Geraldo Rivera turning up in this story?? He was a muckraker from the very beginning...

Karen: Yes, that panel was hilarious. Dig that groovy hair!
Doug: Karen, you mentioned the intricate (too much?) backstories that Claremont devised for these characters. It's in this issue that we learn that Petr's brother Mikhail was one of the USSR's first cosmonauts. But, wouldn't that have made him much older than Colossus?

Karen: Sure seems like it. Gagarin went up in 1961, 15 years prior to this issue. But even beyond that, how does a poor peasant from a tiny obscure villag
e just happen to have a brother who was a cosmonaut? To make matters worse, his sister later become a demon-child! It's just a lot of unnecessary junk that Claremont always lays onto characters.

Doug: As the story goes, Corbeau commandeers a space shuttle and the earth-bound X-Men head to the carrier to rescue their mates. There's a funny scene with Colossus getting airsick. The shuttle is attacked by space-faring Sentinels (as I said last time, it's revealed that this version of the giant robots was inferior to their predecessors -- these guys don't seem to have too much trouble navigating the cosmos, however), and the progression of the battle necessitates Corbeau ramming the shuttle right into the side of the carrier. But again, no vacuum of space. I wonder if Claremont had done any reading on this issue at all, because he writes this like a 1950's DC rather than a Bronze Age Marvel...

Karen: It's almost as if he couldn't be bothered to come up with a reasonable way to get the team on the station because he was in such a hurry to move the story forward. Although, for all we know,Cockrum may have been the one to bring these elements into the story. In any case, your description is apt.

Doug: Three pages of full-on battle ensue, and Claremont and Cockrum manage to work in some characterization that will stick with these characters for year's to come. Of note would be their depictions of Nightcrawler's and Colossus's personalities.

Karen: Colossus flips out over Storm's safety. It seems that they might have been planning for those two to become a couple, or at least have Colossus be interested in Storm. In later issues, we see both Nightrawler and Colossus show romantic inclinations towards
her, although Storm seems uninterested in either of them. I'm glad they never explored these ideas further! I thought the panel of Storm and Colossus in profile was a nice example of Cockrum's skill with faces, as you have mentioned Doug.Doug: Cyclops leaves the team so he can rescue Jean and the Professor from Lang. Once he finds them, Cyke cuts loose with his fists, not his optic blasts, and beats Lang to a pulp. Jean stops him before he kills Lang. You know, Scott Summers has always been an edgy character, but Claremont was really putting him through the wringer in these early issues. I think what we see here is the stress and frustration of leading the new team, the death of Thunderbird, and his growing love for Jean Grey all manifesting itself in a Wolverine-like berserker rage.

Karen: This is the Cyclops I used to love, not that screwed up joke they have over at Marvel now. Here was a guy who had kept so much bottled up inside -both his eye beams and his emotions - and Claremont was showing how he was finally, through his relationship with Jean, beginning to allow himself to feel. His love for her and his sense of responsibility for the team made him a compelling character. Now he just seems to be a jerk who's into telepathic chicks.

Doug: The last page is a full splash to remember -- the new team rounds a corner to come face-to-face with the original five. And the originals ain't happy!



Edo Bosnar said...

Another great post - thanks. If nothing else, these reviews will probably push me into finally getting the Essentials that cover these issues.
Both of you actually touched on a few things that pretty much made me give up on the X-men sometime in the late 80s: the increasingly convoluted back stories to certain characters (or 'forward stories' in the case of all of those alternate distopian future storylines), and the way the best X-man, Cyclops, was so thoroughly screwed up - from being the team's natural leader with his head screwed on tight to a whiny, wife-and-child-abandoning jerk with, as you noted, a telepath fetish.

Doug said...

Thanks, Edo. We have reviews for #100 coming on Christmas Day, and #101 should follow the next week. This has really been a blast for Karen and I -- these were books we bought off the spinner racks way back when, and I'm sorry to say that it's been decades since I've read them!

And that's the best thing about writing this blog with Karen -- I can get really lazy about reading comics (which I love to do), so by creating a schedule of what we'd like to cover, I'm "forced" to dig out old issues or reprints thereof.

In the New Year, look for some Legion, a little FF, more Avengers, some scattered DC, and a return at some point to the All-New, All-Different X-Men!



Anonymous said...

Great coverage - I remember being puzzled by the odd colouring on those few pages, but figured that they were trying to add an air of unreality to it all - which sort of works; things were certainly moving along a rapid clip!

I also recall a fairly negative letter in a subsequent issue raising the same objections that you did about Colossus's brother - pointing out that if he had a cosmonaut brother, there'd be no way the State wouldn't have known about him as well. I think it can be put down to Claremont's "Well, it sounded cool at the time" habit...which he certainly indulged in plenty at this time.

And in retrospect, I felt this run of issues up to #107 was about the best work Cockrum ever did; somehow it never seemed as good when he came back post-Byrne.

Looking forward to your coverage of further issues.

B Smith

Anonymous said...

Then again, one can also guess that Claremont was pushing the story along so quickly because the hundredth issue was looming so closely, and he only had so many pages to get to the situation shown on the last page of #99.

B Smith

Doug said...

B --

Thanks for the comments/musings!

I was thinking... is this little arc we're covering the highlight of Cockrum's tenure on the book (98-101)? How does it stack up with what I would consider Byrne's highlight, X-Men 131-137? Most would say that Claremont/Byrne were on top of their game in The Dark Phoenix Saga, but much of what they had to work with was laid down back here in this Sentinels storyline.

Overall, I'm sure the latter story goes down as incredibly historically important, but I would then say that what we're looking at should probably garner a second look from fans and/or X-Men historians. Despite its flaws, this has been a fun and worthwhile part of the canon.

Karen said...

Thanks for the comments guys. Edo, I really do miss the old Cyclops. He was such a great leader, and the real heart of the X-Men. But we can trace his destruction back to Claremont really - after Jean's death we had Scott going off with a variety of women, and as you said, abandoning his family when Jean came back!I can't even say how much it bothers me that he's slumming with the White Queen now. Doesn't even seem like the same character.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hi Karen, sorry for the belated reply to your comment - I have some free time around the holidays which means I actually spend less time on the computer and more time actually reading books & comics and other stuff.
Anyway, I agree with you that it is none other than Claremont who deserves the blame for Scott's destruction - having him eventually marry a Jean-lookalike was a recipe for eventual disaster (personally, I think he should have stuck with that fishing-boat skipper in Florida...). Even so, I actually liked the way that story arc ended: Cyclops was moving on with his life and seemed happy, and those issues in which he got married and then flew off on his honeymoon were the last 2 issues of X-men I truly enjoyed.

pixelking said...

when you consider what these characters have become in popular culture, it's interesting to have been onboard with them from the beginning and having a front row seat to their evolution. i guess it's akin to being fortunate enough to have purchased the early issues of fantastic four straight off the spinner racks. thanks for bringing back the memories of a fourteen year old kid at the local 7-11 with a pocketful of quarters.
and i remember being thrown off by the layout of page two as well.

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