Monday, December 28, 2009

The Birth of Phoenix, Part 5: X-Men 101

X-Men 101 (October 1976)
"Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!"
Chris Claremont-Dave Cockrum/Frank Chiaramonte

Doug: Welcome back, to the conclusion of our look at X-Men #'s 97-101. It's been a really fun month revisiting some treasured memories from roughly 35 years ago (wow -- has it been that long??). We're actually only going to review the first half of this issue, as the book is somewhat of a conclusion to the Sentinels arc and a prelude to the coming Juggernaut tale. Maybe we'll get back to that later, True Believers!

Doug: Our story picks up right where it left off, with Jean Grey attempting to bring the Starcore space shuttle back to earth. There had been intense solar activity, and Jean's telekinesis was required to not only hold the ship together upon re-entry to earth's atmosphere, but also to shield the ship from the radiation. As the shuttle got closer, it became apparent that a safe landing was not a done deal.

Karen: The fact that Jean was able to telekinetically hold together something the size of a space shuttle, for a prolonged period of time, while simultaneously screening out lethal radiation, would indicate to me that she was already a pretty powerful mutant! Certainly this was the greatest use of her powers we'd yet seen.

Doug: Jean managed to guide the ship toward JFK in New York. I thought this was somewhat odd, as even when the shuttle program was in its first flights it was always landed in the desert. I'm not certain if we should assume that a) Jean wanted to land in NYC, b) the shuttle was programmed to land there, or c) Claremont just wanted the X-Men back in New York as a plot device. At any rate, they end up with a water landing after torching through a runway at Kennedy.

Karen: The double-page spread of the shuttle crashing and coming apart was pretty spectacular. But I thought this issue was a step-down, art-wise, from the previous. Frank Chiaramonte's inks have an unfortunate scratchy look to them, not like the fuller, thicker inks of Cockrum himself in the previous issue.

Doug: As the team surfaces, they do a headcount and determine that Jean is not among them. As Cyke announces that he's going back down for her, the water begins to bubble and a woman bursts upward, shouting, "Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I AM FIRE! AND LIFE INCARNATE! NOW AND FOREVER -- I AM PHOENIX!" She just as abruptly does a burn-out and falls back into the bay. But before she fell, she did show off some pretty cool togs, in Marvel Girl green/yellow no less!

Karen: Originally they intended for the costume to be white and gold, which I think would have been an interesting color scheme - certainly a unique one. But my understanding is that the white portions of the costume would have allowed whatever was on the other side of the page to show through (because of the thin newsprint pages) so green was chosen instead. It does seem appropriate since, as you mention Doug, it is her original Marvel Girl colors.

Doug: As the team makes their way to shore, Professor X suggests that the fewer costumed adventurers, the less explaining there will be to do. Nightcrawler uses his image inducer, and Xavier creates an illusion that Storm is in plain clothes. The next scene takes us to a wandering Wolverine, musing to himself how he feels toward Jean like he's never felt toward anyone. He buys a bouquet of flowers and heads to the hospital to "maybe get to talkin'". For whatever reason, he's surprised when the rest of the team is already there.

Karen: It's funny how things change. I never considered Wolverine a legitimate threat to Scott and Jean's relationship. Wolverine was depicted as a short, rather unattractive jerk with no social skills. But I think that over the years, as Wolverine has gained popularity (and certainly once Hugh Jackman portrayed him in the movies), the whole Jean-Scott-Wolverine triangle actually became a reality. But it didn't really exist back in the issues we are reading. All that was there was Wolverine's unsatisfied desires.

Doug: This chapter in our story ends with an announcement from Jean's attending physicians (including Dr. Peter Corbeau?? -- doesn't the guy work for StarCore?) that with rest and care, she will be fine. The team is elated, as you might imagine. But... due to the strain of the past several days, and the fact that Jean needs R&R, Xavier announces that the five new X-Men will be placed on extended vacation. Yeah, like the Juggernaut wouldn't show up to ruin that...

Karen: I really liked the way Clar
emont portrayed Scott here. We find out that he realizes that it is Jean, and not the X-Men, that gives his life meaning. When the doctor announces that she will recover, Scott goes off by himself and collapses in tears of relief. That was a very well-done scene.

Karen: All in all, I thought this storyline was entertaining. I really enjoyed seeing the Sentinels come back, although they were hardly the threat they originally were. But there was so much packed into each issue, like the return of characters like Havok and Polaris (was this the first time she had been called Polaris?), and the continued development of the new X-Men, that this title was consistently the most exciting book on the stands. Revisiting those days has been a real blast.

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