Monday, July 26, 2010

George Perez July: X-Men Annual #3

X-Men Annual #3 (1979)
"A Fire In the Sky!"
Chris Claremont-George Perez/Terry Austin

Karen: Welcome to our final entry for "George Perez July". It's a truly entertaining annual that features Perez on some characters he's not normally associated with - The X-Men.

Doug: I don't know about you, but I had a slight smile on my face during my entire read! From the opening splash page where Perez paid homage to regular series penciller John Byrne and then (of all people) Fred Hembeck, to the very last page of the book I just had a lot of fun!

Karen: However this issue starts with a brief visit to the home of a group Perez has deep connections to -The Avengers. Arkon, an extra-dimensional Conan-wannabe who has hassled the Avengers before, goes to Avengers Mansion seeking Thor. Apparently, he needs his help. He nearly throttles Jarvis when he tells him Thor has taken a leave of absence. However, Arkon's adviser, the Grand Vizier, tells him there is another who can aid them -the mutant known as Storm.

Doug: I always enjoy Jarvis. Poor guy -- he's taken his share of lumps through the years. I found it odd, though, that Jarvis said he'd checked the external scanners and sensors before he opened the door to retrieve the morning paper. Soon as he opened the door, BAM! Well hello, Mr. Arkon!

Karen: Cue a trip to the home of the X-Men, where a danger room session is in progress. Perez does a nice job on the different X-Men, and Austin's inks give the team the familiar look we all loved. The danger room session goes awry and we get a nice display of powers by the team. Shortly after this, Arkon shows up and battles the X-Men. Colossus really got a chance to shine in these scenes, finally stopping Arkon by hitting him with a tree! However, before the fight ends, the barbarian king uses a special 'lightning bolt' to teleport Storm to his world. Cyclops decides to use the remaining bolts to transport the whole team to recover Storm.

Doug: This scene seemed to stretch on forever, and I am certainly not complaining. What a tour de force for Perez and Austin. Even though it was one long (actually 2-part, though) superhero fight, it was one joy after another. These were the X-Men as they should be -- as you said, by powers but also by personality, this was the team unspoiled by the anti-hero movement and the blatant commercialism that would be the 1990's. Throughout the book Wolverine was very much in-character, but never hogging the limelight. He was dour, but never surly. Colossus was as noble as ever (I always wondered about the seeming triangle that was he, Ororo, and Nightcrawler and Peter's angry assault on Arkon further deepened my suspicions), and Kurt was his usual feisty self. Storm was regal yet sensitive, and Cyke just led. Like a rock he led. These were the golden days of the All-New team.

Karen: Yeah, this was the Cyclops I used to know and love. A guy who took his role very seriously, who cared about his team but nonetheless drove them to perform. As a strategist, he seemed second only to Captain America. That really comes across here, as Cyke directs the team through fight after fight.

Karen: Once the team is transpo
rted, Perez gets to draw one of his specialties: a gigantic fight scene overflowing with figures! What looks like hundreds of Arkon's warriors attack the X-Men. It's a spectacular fight.

Doug: Ah, yes! Part 3 of the never-ending battle. And just more fun!

Karen: Eventually the heroes locate Storm, only to discover that she is willingly working with her captors now! It turns out that Arkon's kidnapped her because the energy rings that encircle his planet and provide light and warmth have nearly gone out. This happened once before (Avengers 75 and 76); that time Iron Man built a device to charge the rings, and Thor used his lightning to power it. But the device has malfunctioned. Nightcrawler and Wolverine hurry to repair the device -yes, you read that correctly. Claremont throws in a line about how Banshee taught Nightcrawler electronics, but c'mon, really? These two are repairing a device Tony Stark built? I'm not buyin' that! Then Storm absorbs the lightning and projects it into Cyclops, who somehow converts it into optic blasts to charge the device. I thought the reasoning behind all this was weak, to say the least. But it did make for a very dramatic tableau, as Colossus serves to ground Storm, and Cyclops suffers through the fury of her electrical barrage.

Doug: As we mentioned back in our review of Giant-Size X-Men #1, problems often seemed to be spectacularly solved by the energy-powered mutants channeling their various forces through some conduit and at the situation. I agree with you that this was a bit contrived, but the visual was outstanding and really showcased what heroes are all about. You know, as Marvel touts their "Heroic Age", one need only look back to some of these Bronze Age stories to see how it should (always) be done. Why they went away from a good thing is beyond me.

Karen: Of course our mutant heroes succeed, and the life-giving rings are restored to Arkon's world. I know we've discussed this before, but Austin is definitely a 'strong inker' , in that his style is imposed on whomever he inks. You can still tell its Perez, but Austin has a particular style that is all his own. It reminds me of how Joe Sinnott's inking was always identifiable, regardless of the artist. Since I enjoy his work, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. It was fun to see how a Perez X-Men would have looked -and like all things Perez, it's pretty darned nice!

Doug: It was nice, and as you said -- consistent. About the only complaint I had was a series of panels late in the story (when Arkon was explaining how his planet had fallen into darkness) where the inks seemed really uneven. Between the first facial close-up and the last two there was an abrupt change from light inks that really showed Perez's pencils to very dark, heavy inks that almost evoked other inkers we've discussed.

Doug: As I said above, this was such a great period for the X-Men. Chris Claremont had yet to convolute the X-verse beyond recognition and in the regular book he and Byrne/Austin were really clicking. It's no wonder George Perez wanted in on the action, and like you said -- we're all better for it!


Edo Bosnar said...

Best. Annual. Ever.
I just re-read it a few days ago. It's almost non-stop action from cover to cover, but still tells a great story. Like you both noted, Claremont really tempered everything perfectly: the action, the pacing, the dialogue, the interaction between the characters - everything in perfect doses. The X-men themselves perform like a perfect team, and the story is very much a team story, as no character steals the limelight. (And yes, Cyclops is written the way he's supposed to be: the steadfast leader who always keeps his cool and keeps everyone in line, including Wolverine.) I can't praise this one enough; in fact, although not drawn by Byrne, I would say it's my favorite single issue of the Claremont/Byrne run, since it seems to distill all of the best aspects of that run.
Great post, by the way; I really enjoyed your comments. Perhaps my only criticism would be that you didn't post my personal favorite panel: when Colossus shows up to Cyclops & Wolverine a lift on a dragon he happened to commandeer...

ChrisPV said...

I love, unabashedly, the Claremont X-Men. It's always kinda ticked me off the way there seems to be this knee-jerk reaction amongst some fans (and a LOT of internet reviewers) that he's hokey and "never could write that well." I'll give you that his style is very emblematic of the time in which the book was written, but you have to take that into account. It isn't modern, but it shouldn't be because it's thirty years old!

In short kids, respect your elders. You're only here because of their work.

And I have nothing to say about Perez. Man's art speaks for itself, methinks.

Horace said...

This is my favorite annual for a lot of the reasons Doug and Karen lay out.

Wonderful collaboration by Perez and Austin here. They also worked together on a number of covers during the Bronze Age. But, outside of X-Men Annual #3, I'm not aware of them working together on another story.

-Horace Austin

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