Monday, April 18, 2011

Across the Universe: X-Men 108

X-Men #108 (December 1977)
"Armageddon Now!"

Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Karen: Welcome to part two of th
is pivotal X-Men story -pivotal because it marked the end of the Cockrum Era (well, the first one anyway) and the beginning of the Byrne/Austin era. I have to say, I recall being surprised that Cockrum was gone when I first got this issue, but the Byrne/Austin team immediately won me over. They were every bit as good at capturing the enormous scale and spectacle that Cockrum had conveyed in the previous issue.

Doug: If I recall, I also wasn't put out by the art change. The Byrne/Austin team
was solid from the beginning, and the story was so powerful that the plot really carried the day. I always have thought it odd, however, the the book had a Cockrum cover -- I suppose he'd done that ahead of whenever he'd have done the interiors. Say, another thing that makes this pivotal is the severe ramping up of Phoenix's power. Shades of things to come!

Karen: After a brief recap of the situation, and a quick trip to Earth, wh
ere big brains like Reed Richards and Hank Pym ponder the meaning of the cosmic 'blinks', we return to the X-Men and the Starjammers. The M'krann crystal is glowing with power, and from it comes a tiny, muppet-like being named Jahf, who says he is there to prevent anyone from entering the crystal. Of course, Wolverine scoffs at the little fella, and soon finds himself punched into orbit! This was hilarious, and Wolverine truly deserved it -he was such a jerk back then!

Doug: Jahf's certainly a little Byrne-guy -- I'm not sure how Cockrum would have drawn him, but Byrne's handling is r
eally good. Was it your sense that in this very issue we begin to see the shift from a focus on Nightcrawler to a focus on Wolverine? Logan's not even on the cover, but I just got the sense that he was about to take a bigger role. And shoot -- it doesn't take long, as he'll be the featured guy in the very next issue.

Karen: It's no secret that Nightcrawler was Cockrum's favorite, and with his departure, Kurt seemed to be the odd man out frequently. I do wonder how things
might have been for both Nightcrawler and Wolverine if he'd stayed on the title longer.

Karen: Jahf begins manhandling everyone. Jean gives us another amazing display of power, when even in her weakened state, she telekinetically grabs a meteor in space ab
ove and sends it slamming into the tiny enemy. Wow. Unfortunately, Jahf is a tough bugger. It takes Banshee getting into his face-literally-and cutting loose with all his sonic power to destroy him (it's OK, he was a robot).

Doug: I sensed here, too, that we'll begin to see Banshee take a lesser role on the team. Although he saved the day against Jahf, the strain on his throat will lead
to his depowering over the next couple of years until he basically became an afterthought.

Karen: But Jahf was just the begi
nning; the next guardian, Modt, is a Godzilla-sized robot. As he starts attacking the heroes, one of the Starjammers, Raza, who sounds a bit like Thor in speech patterns, heads for the Emperor and angrily throws him into the light at the center of the crystal. Suddenly, everything changes and they are all inside the crystal. It's a bit trippy. Everyone starts experiencing their worst nightmare. However, it has limited effect on Phoenix. Jean transforms into the fiery bird-like image we all know so well and probes the center of the crystal.

Doug: I liked the contrast between the two guardians. And in regard to Phoenix -- this is what I alluded to in our intro. You know, we've discussed in the past Thor's role on the Avengers, infinitely stronger than his teammates. As we go through our X-Men reviews (which for whatever reason, we've chos
en to do in order), it will be interesting to revisit this concept as it relates to Jean. There's no doubt that as powerful as Xavier or Havok are, Phoenix is in a class that might surpass even Galactus...

Karen: Yes, do you really need a whole team when one person can travel across the universe and throw meteors and people? It's the same problem you have with Superman in the Justice League: what can Green Arrow possibly do to contribute when Supes is there? Oh well, back to our story, already in progress: It all gets a bit complicated, but apparently there's this nasty neutron
galaxy inside the crystal, and if it gets released, it will destroy everything, which would be pretty terrible. Jean's trying to stop it but needs help. Storm offers to anchor her with her own life-force, and then Corsair -or Major Summers, as it shockingly is revealed -serves as her other anchor.

Doug: Complicated? I think this was the first time Claremont really challenged m
e to keep up with him. Of course, years later I'd just give up. Storm's nobility is priceless -- she was such a good character back in these days. The Corsair reveal was nice, because they didn't mess around with it for a dozen issues. I guess I can't say I was surprised, as I'd not given Scott and Alex's heritage much thought in the past -- you tell me they're orphans, they're orphans. Which I guess brings up the fact that this reveal was a retcon. How does anyone feel about it? We've had debate around here before concerning what is tolerable and what should just not be in the realm of retcons.

Karen: Of course, now, that entire Corsair storyline has been completely fleshed out, including the recent addition of yet another Summers boy, Gabriel, who also went by the name Vulcan. As much as I actually enjoyed that particular story, one has to wonder if there was a need to add another unlikely Summers kid to the clan. But we can get into that more this Friday (hint hint).

Karen: Phoenix winds up putting the neutron galaxy genie back in its bottle and everyone is star-gated back to Earth, safe and soun
d. It's a little too quick and easy a wrap up, but the art more than makes up for it. There's a dedication to Dave Cockrum at the end, and underneath, it simply says,"I'm not dead. -Dave". I miss funny stuff like this nowadays.

Doug: It was interesting that the Imperial Guard had no role in this conclusion. I guess I would have fancied this story as a triptych, but perhaps Cockrum's departure hast
ened the conclusion of the tale. You mentioned the dedication to Cockrum, and with some very minor research, I uncovered the following interview from TwoMorrows' Comic Book Artist #6 -- I was looking for the specific reason Cockrum left the book. I actually have this magazine, but had long-ago forgotten this interview:

CBA: Were you excited about working on the New X-Men? 

Dave: Yeah, because it was a potentially hot series and I looked forward to the opportunity to do lots of neat stuff. I worked closely with Len to start but it didn't stay that way too long. He was in the process of becoming editor-in-chief at that point, and had gotten too busy to stay on. He plotted the next issue of Giant-Size X-Men (which became X-Men #94 and 95), but Chris Claremont came on and stayed as writer for 18-odd years. I knew from the start that I wasn't going to ink it myself but I did ink the first issue because, well, I wanted to.

CBA: So you stayed with the book for two years?

Dave: I stayed through to #107. I couldn't stay with it because I was on staff by that time—my job was to design covers—and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I was tired and I gave it up. Later on, they asked me to do that Marvel Fanfare with the X-Men in the Savage Land and it was fun! I called up Chris and said, "This is really fun! If Byrne ever wants to leave the book, give me another chance at it." And Byrne left the book that following Monday. That was a weird juxtaposition! So I got the book back and I was enthusiastic again. It was fun for a long time.

The only reason I left the book the second time was because I had previously put in a proposal for The Futurians. It sat on Jim Shooter's desk for about a year, and he finally said, "Yeah, you can do this if you want." I was in some doubt whether I should quit the X-Men and do that but I really wanted to do it. Chris and Louise Simonson, the editor, talked me into giving up the X-Men because they thought I was more enthused about The Futurians. That was probably the biggest mistake of my life! That was about the time they started paying the royalties and reprint money. It takes nine months after an issue goes on sale before you get a royalty check so I hadn't received one yet by the time I quit the X-Men. When the first one came it was $2000 right out of the air! I thought, "Geez!" And it got better, and from what I heard, people like Jim Lee were making $40,000 a month on royalties. (That's why they could afford to go off and start Image.) If I had known about that kind of money coming in—even the $2000 a month—you couldn't have pried me off that book with a crowbar. The Futurians was never that successful.


HannibalCat said...

X-Men 108 was the very first issue that I bought - full colour American import at our local newsagent. It absolutely blew me away and I stuck with it through the Byrne/Austin run, none of which I now have. (Tears hair). I couldn't believe that comics could be as beautiful as these X-Men, until I found Gulacy's MOKF.

Edo Bosnar said...

At this point, and even later, the Corsair retcon was handled pretty well, just like the tantalizing, mysterious hints about Wolverine's past that began to be dropped as the Claremont + Byrne/Austin run gathered steam. It would be a few years before Claremont's sub-plots and back-stories became convoluted ad absurdam.
As for that Cockrum interview, I can sympathize with him about missing out on huge royalties (because I think he deserved them), but at the time - and I know this will sound mean - I was glad he left the X-men. His art was looking really rushed at that point, while Paul Smith gave the series an (all-too-brief) shot in the arm.
Had that Futurians graphic novel, by the way. I remember really liking the art, but the story was a bit flat.

Karen said...

Edo, I really hope you will be with us on Friday, when we discuss the X-Men further.

I agree, at this stage, most of the back story being filled in was actually well done and exciting. It was later, when everyone had some sort of expansive, bizarre past history, that it became ridiculous.

I would also agree that Cockrum's second run on the title left me cold.


Horace said...

Terry Austin complemented John Byrne so well. Together they did amazing work.

William said...

Just about two weeks ago I finished up reading every issue of X-Men from Giant Size #1 all the way through issue #143 (the end of Byrne's run). That's fifty, or so, comics in a row. I hadn't read them in many, many years, and I didn't even completely remember most of them. So it was a lot of fun to go back and experience those stories again.

For me, #108 is the issue where the book really takes off and starts to become the classic series that we all know and love. This is also the issue where I realized how important the artwork is to the quality of the storytelling. Cockrum is a decent artist in his own right, but when Byrne and Austin took over with this issue, the book attained a whole new level of awesome! The characters really came alive and the art even seemed help Claremont's writing. Like I said... everything was just better somehow. And it just kept getting better from there... until Byrne left.

'sigh', I guess I'll just have to accept the fact that comics will never be as good again as they were back then. But it's nice to know you can still go back and relive the fun of those golden (or bronze, as the case may be) days.

Meanwhile, I'm two-thirds of the way through Frank Miller's Daredevil run, and one-third through Byrne's FF. Let the good times roll!!!

Fred W. Hill said...

I'll have to join the chorus in stating that while Cockrum was undoubtedly a very good artist, Byrne was better still and this is where Byrne -- and the X-Men -- really began to shine. One of the things I loved about Byrne's work from this era was his mastery of facial expressions. From what I've seen of his recent work, he's gone to pot, but he was one of the best in the latter half of the Bronze Age.
As to the convolutions of the Summers' family, I bailed somewhere in the midst of that, long before Cable became a mega-star -- I recall seeing him on the covers of various mags while browsing in the comics shops but it was years before I read a synopsis of his background.
Regarding Nightcrawler, he was a very likeable character but works best as a teamplayer and IMO didn't really have the traits to shine the way Wolverine eventually did. Of course, eventually they really overdid it with Wolverine, as they did with the X-Men overall, along iwth Spider-Man.
Anyhow, this was a spectacular start fot the Claremont/Byrne/ Austin team on our merry mutants.

J.A. Morris said...

Re-read this issue last week for the first time in years. It sounds corny, but during the final battle,all I could say was "wow!" The art in this issue still knocks my socks off! I tried to wonder what it would've been like to buy this off the racks at 7-11 when it was knew(I didn't read it until it was reprinted in the 80s).

I don't really have a problem with the Corsair retcon,but they later retconned a brother for Cyclops, that sucked(thankfully I'd long since quit reading X-men):

And I've always thought the Imperial Guard were fun,even if they were just an homage to the Legion.
But I've never cared for or about Lilandra and the minutia of Shi'ar politics, who's on throne,etc. I the other members of the Neramani clan(D'Ken,Deathbird)to be boring, one dimensional villains. When I was a kid,whenever Shi'ar characters showed up, I'd always roll my eyes and wish it had been a story featuring Magneto/Juggernaut/Arcade instead of them.

Karen said...

J.A., I did get this issue when it hit the stands and I can tell you - it was awesome! I would read and re-read my X-Men comics over and over, trying to absorb anything I might have missed the first time. It hit me at just the right time -my pre-teen to early teens -and was without a doubt my favorite comic from about this point until Byrne left.


Edo Bosnar said...

Fred, don't necessarily agree that Byrne's art has "gone to pot" - personally, I really like some of his recent work for IDW, and he's got me to do something I never, ever did before: read Star Trek comics. But this might be a topic for a different thread...
Karen, I can relate to how you used to read and re-read your X-men books; on my comic buying day, usually a Saturday, I would bring home my stack of comics and always save X-men for last, to savor it, and then re-read it at least two times (and usually two more times the next day).

Doug said...


I couldn't agree more in regard to Byrne's mastery of the facial expression. It really gave an illustrative feel to the art. Even when I thought he fell short on the angular depiction of bodies (just seems sometimes to be too elongated for my art tastes), the facial features and emotions were always top-notch.


John Lindwall said...

This was an amazing issue to be sure. I love both Cockrum's art and Byrne's and would not say that one was better then the other -- too tough of a call. I agree that Austin's ink on Byrne made the art shine; but Terry has a way of doing that to just about everyone he ink.

Like others have mentioned, I used to read and re-read my good comics. I know I read this issue (and the surrounding series) dozens of times! Love the Imperial Guard because the character designs rock AND because I love the legion!

The quote at the end of your post from Dave Cockrum made me sad. I think he had a really rough time near the end of his life and I wish he could have received more royalty money. He was an amazing talent and sounds like he was a cool dude.

I bought his Futurian's Graphic Novel when it came out and loved it. I just loved the concept, and as always with Mr. Cockrum the character designs were fantastic. I still have that book -- one of the few that survived from my younger years through today.

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