Wednesday, November 17, 2010
One-Off Wednesdays: X-Men 96
X-Men #96 (Dec 1975)
"Night of the Demon!"
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Sam Grainger
Karen: Here at BAB, Doug and I tend to either review story arcs or we do separate reviews of single issues in our Two In One feature. But with this post we'll be taking a joint look at those issues in a series that stand alone: the one-offs. It's a single issue that contains a complete story. Sure, there may be sub-plots that tie into previous and future issues. But the main story is self-contained.
Karen: We're going to inaugurate this feature with the X-Men. Although most of us probably think of the X-Men as always being one long soap opera of continued stories, they did have a few stand alone issues. This one starts with a brooding Cyclops taking a walk, thinking about the death of Thunderbird, which is said to have happened weeks ago, but for the readers would've been the previous issue.
Doug: As a kid buying these books, I had X-Men #'s 95, 96, and 100 -- then a great run through #130 when I quit buying new comics (yep -- just missed the Dark Phoenix Saga!). So this issue was about as seminal as it gets in terms of my indoctrination to the All-New team. Despite some criticisms that I'm sure we'll have as we go along, this single issue was very important to me for showing me what, who, and even how these people were. Fond memories!
Karen: Cyke gets upset and lets loose with his optic blasts, obliterating trees and tearing the top off a very strange-looking obelisk. Cyke calms down and heads back to the mansion, while unseen by him, a cloud of energy appears to rise from the obelisk. Now I have to ask: wasn't Cyclops even a little curious about why there would be such a thing out in the woods?
Doug: Well I can tell you that when I was 9 1/2 years old, I didn't even know the word "obelisk", so that it might be some sort of talisman, gateway, what have you... I just assumed it was a giant headstone/grave marker. But yeah -- since the X-Men had been on the grounds for years, I would certainly have thought Scott would have know that it was there.
Karen: Back at the mansion, the other X-Men are going through a Danger Room training session. This early Wolverine shows his propensity for going bananas and attacking his friends. The Professor worries about Scott, and mentions to Banshee that he is expecting their new housekeeper, "a nice widow woman named Moira MacTaggert", who Banshees suspects will be an old crone. Of course the door bell rings and Banshee answers it, to be surprised by a young and feisty woman.
Doug: Back to "the" Wolverine for a second (and doesn't that bother you in these early issues?). Did you happen to look at the letters page in this issue, which contained reader reaction to the debut in #94? The first two letters are for the most part praising, even though both correspondents clamor for the return of the original team. But both readers also say that they don't like Wolverine and wish he'd get off the team! In fact, writer Gregg Flood of Chicago writes, "I must reiterate my lack of enthusiasm for Thunderbird and The Wolverine." Bro-therrrr -- I wonder what he thinks of Mr. Over-Exposed Logan 35 years later??
Karen: Wolverine was the trouble-maker on the team, so I'm not too surprised he rubbed people the wrong way (and yes, I did read the letters page -one of the things I love about the DVD comics!). Next we get two pages dealing with Dr. Steven Lang and his Project Armageddon, an anti-mutant military effort. Col. Mike Rossi shows up at his impressive base and tells him he's pulling the plug on his project. Rossi doesn't believe there is a mutant threat: "Even if that were true, your project isn't the answer. Not these days -the country couldn't survive your kind of mutant witch-hunt." I thought that was a nice political touch, when you recall that the U.S. had just been through Watergate. Astute readers of course noticed the leg of a sentinel in the final panel.
Doug: I can guarantee you that as a kid just getting my feet wet in the Marvel Universe, I didn't recognize that Sentinel leg for what it was. Reading this again some years after, I thought it was a great touch, and it must have been exciting for those older readers who were indeed wanting some nostalgia. Comment on the art here -- the sample Karen's provided alongside these comments say to me that Sam Grainger, usually solid, was to me a bit off his game in this issue. I'm just not digging the cross-hatching on the cheekbones of Col. Rossi, nor is he doing us any favors on Lang's back. It's just not right.
Karen: Meanwhile, night has fallen and back at the mansion the X-Men are getting to know Mrs. MacTaggert. Suddenly, a battered Cyclops comes flying through the wall, with a huge demonic creature following him! The thing calls himself Kierrok the Damned and begins to attack the X-Men. It's a nice design by Cockrum -I like the single eye and the horns in particular.
Doug: It is a great design -- spooky, evil, etc. But later Cockrum does allow himself to have a little fun, as there are demons toward the end of the book who look like they could have been extras on Monsters, Inc.!!
Karen: The X-Men begin to fight back, but they do it as individuals, not as a team. Kierrok handles each fairly easily. Wolverine gives him a good showing though -one of his early "berserker rages" where he claws and hacks at the demon, apparently killing it. Well, until the next page, where it's back up.
Doug: Didn't you think that when Storm attempted to shield Xavier, and Kierrok took a swipe at her, that his claws must have made contact? Yet later, she doesn't have a mark on her. I recall both liking and disliking Wolverine when I first read this story. On the one hand, his behavior had been so surly toward his teammates; on the other hand, this was a guy you'd want on your side in a fight!
Karen: The Professor surmises that Kierrok is stealing their life force. He enters the mind of the demon, and it temporarily stuns him. Then we get a little bit of Claremont insanity: Moira MacTaggert comes running up with a machine gun and fires on Kierrok!
Doug: A spunky lass...
Karen: As the Professor recovers, he tells Scott and Storm that they must strike Kierrok at the source: they must destroy the cairn he came out of. Storm flies off to do this but is attacked by a bunch of nasty critters. She struggles with them as they try to pull her into the cairn-and we get a quick glimpse from her later origin story in issue 102, where we see the child Storm buried in the rubble of her family's home - and this fear causes Storm to really cut loose and blast the cairn. At the same moment, Kierrok disintegrates into dust. The Professor warns the team that "Kierrok and his kind once ruled mankind. And they want very much to rule mankind again!" The issue concludes with the final panel showing that Col. Rossi's plane has crashed, killing all aboard, in an accident undoubtedly engineered by Steven Lang.
Doug: Again, it seems like a common theme in these early issues of the All-New team was that the energy-wielding mutants would either win the day alone or combine their powers to create some sort of reaction that would end the conflict. That is perhaps due in part to some of their early adversaries being just a bit more powerful than the Toad. But it was cool to see how much raw power Storm, Havok, Polaris, and later Phoenix were wielding. This was a team that, despite their relative lack of experience, could have given some Avengers teams a run for the money!
Karen: I think I enjoyed the sub-plots in this story far more than the main 'Kierrok' story. The stuff with Lang was just fascinating to me the first time I read it, and was again. It was a great foreshadowing of the stories to come. I also very much liked the beginning, with Cyclops dwelling on Thunderbird's death and how he felt responsible for it. But the main story with Kierrok just felt out of place. Why was that cairn of ancient evil on the property? Surely the Professor would have been aware of it before now. I don't think it really worked. It did illustrate that the X-Men still were not functioning like a team though.
Doug: In my juvenile "denseness", the whole prejudice/hatred angle sort of went over my head. However, years later that's a nice angle that's continued from the previous incarnation of the team and provided that running theme that would always amp up whenever Magneto came to call. As Karen and I discussed in our planning meetings, this is a really important issue in the canon of this team, as Claremont really gets at some of the characterization that will carry forward through his collaborations with Cockrum and Byrne. I really, really enjoy this era -- it's truly one of Marvel's high-water marks for any book.