Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Greatest Mutant Show on Earth: X-Men 111

X-Men #111 (June 1978)
"Mind Games!"
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

Karen: That's right, friends, we're back with our favorite mutants for another set of reviews in the Claremont-Byrne-Austin era. These are some of my favorite issues of all time that we're getting into here, and personally, I can't wait to get going!

Doug: Nor can I -- and this long arc also stands in my mind as perhaps the zenith of this creative team. Certainly what came before and after is no small potatoes, but
these 4-5 issues beginning with #111 are the issues I'd send someone who asked, "So what was so great about the Claremont/Byrne run on X-Men?" This is it. By the way, did you find it odd that Dave Cockrum continued to do covers in this era?

Karen: Well, Cockrum did a lot of covers back then. But yeah, it was a little odd. Ou
r story starts with the Beast, once an X-Man, now an Avenger, checking out a rinky dink carnival in Texas. He's shocked to find Banshee working as a carnival barker - and what looks like the new X-Men appearing as freaks in the sideshow (Wolverine, Nightcrawler) or performers in the big top (Storm). Of course, Beast hasn't actually met the new team, so he's not positive that this is really them. He flashes back to how he wound up in this situation. Lorna Dane (aka Polaris) called Beast after her lover, Havok, disappeared. She'd called the X-Men, but couldn't get anyone at the mansion. Beast checked out the mansion and found it looking as if everyone had left it in a hurry. Using Cerebro, the X-Men's mutant-locating device, he found the X-Men in Texas -or did he?

g: I can distinctly recall my surprise when I began reading this and the Beast identified the carnival barker as Banshee; that totally went over my head on the cover. I guess I was a bit surprised at Hank's doubt as to whether or not this was the real team. Never having met them aside, I would think his Avengers Priority status would have required some intelligence debriefing somewhere along the line. The X-Men hadn't exactly kept a low profile since becoming active against Count Nefaria.

Karen: Beast spots an aerialist who miraculously floats down to the ground after she misses her catch. Dead certain that it's his old friend Jea
n Grey, he heads into her wagon to see her after the show. Only this isn't the Jean Grey he remembers! She's kinda sleazy...

Doug: Claremont was quite skilled at character dialogue in this issue.
He really had the voices down.

Karen: Soon another old school pal shows up. Scott "Slim" Summers happens
by Jean's but he also does not remember Hank. Things start to get rough, and soon a whole mob of carnival folk are after the Beast. These are some really slimy looking carnies -pretty much exactly as I remember them from the county fair as a kid! The Beast can handle these clowns easily, but needs to find a place to stop and think about what's going on. He jumps inside the sideshow, and as he's pondering things, we see a large shadow on the fabric behind him. Suddenly a massive metal fist comes tearing through the tent, to slam into the back of Hank's skull. As the Beast lies sprawled and dazed on the ground, we see Colossus step into the tent. In his weakened state, the Beast is quickly beaten into submission by the carnies. As he is dragged out of the tent, the chained Wolverine growls, "Nooooo!"

Doug: Is this issue the beginning of the shift from Nightcrawler and Colossus to Wolverine? I think we may have a candidate.
Wolverine is much more "in charge" here, and displays that personality that we'll see fully manifested when he takes on the Hellfire Club single-handedly in #133.
Karen: Yep, with Byrne firmly entrenched now, the nasty little Canuck starts getting more time. The Beast is taken to see "the boss." This turns out to be none other than Mesmero, one of the X-Men's oldest foes. With his ability to control minds, once he had taken over Jean, he was able to gain access to all of the others. There's a really nice close-up of Mesmero's eyes as he begins to work on the Beast.

Doug: It's a great reveal, but were you disappointed that Hank didn't come up with Mesmero or Mastermind as a potential baddie in all of this?
It seems to me that the X-Men's rogues gallery isn't all that deep anyway, and then when you cut it down to guys who could pull this off...

Karen: Back in the sideshow, Wolverine is struggling against both his mental and physical ensnarement. He struggles mightily to shatter his chains, then g
rabs a carnie and threatens him to get information. Then he goes to rouse Jean out of Mesmero's control, which has some painful repercussions.
Doug: As I said above, I think this is Wolverine's coming-out party. The scene where he has the carnie up against the wall and tells him he's going to pop his claws by the count of five is priceless!

Karen: That scene pretty mu
ch defined the character in this era, didn't it? Meanwhile the Beast has managed to resist Mesmero's hypnotic stare long enough to break free of his goons. Just as he's about to smack Mesmero around though, the Beast is knocked out by a blast of energy from an unseen assailant. Whoever it is, they absolutely terrify Mesmero.

Karen: Jean manages to restore all of the X-Men to normal -and they are mad! They take down a bunch of carnies as they make their way
towards Mesmero's wagon. He appears to be standing in the doorway as the team approaches but then his body slumps to the ground. From the darkened interior of the wagon, they hear a voice that sends chills down their spines. Rising from a chair, we see that it is the X-Men's oldest and most dangerous foe, Magneto! Surrounded by an impressive Kirby Krackle, the mutant master of magnetism informs the X-Men that not all their powers will save them this time!
Doug: I have long said that this is one of the best last-panel bad guy entrances of all time! Byrne and Austin just pump the power into this figure of Magneto. Obviously at the height of his power (as we saw in X-Men #104), he's no less physically imposing here as well. Scott's reservation comes across as real, and the looks on the faces of the rest of the team speak volumes toward what's to come. Having been with this title since #95 (I missed #'s 97-99), my anticipation for the promised rematch was so great... I only prayed that I could get my hands on #112! These were fun times to be a kid, discovering this as it came out.


dbutler16 said...

Yes, this is when the Claremont-Byrne run really took off. In looking at the cover, it looks like a one-and-done, but it's of course the beginning of a bigger story. I remember, when I started reading this, feeling as if I'd missed something, perhaps missed an issue, or gotten off at the wrong stop, because of the way the story started. It was a great way to pull the reader in, and make him/her wonder what the heck is going on. I'm shocked at how Mesmero was able to conquer Jean, though. I love the shot of Colossus' rabbit punch to Hank. Also, I loved the way Hank was able to resist Mesmero's control. Way to go Hank! It was nice to finally see him make an appearance, since he'd missed Giant Size #1 and #94.

pete doree said...

As much as I hate Claremont's patented writer's tic's that he used for every single character, regardless of who they were( ie.
" I...hurt ", " I can't...I won't do that again", every single character referring to the villain as 'butcher' and every monster as 'beastie', and oh so many more )I gotta say, Cyclops thinking the new X-Men aren't ready to take on Magneto is great writing.

Ram said...

Beautiful X-men era... if you read Uncanny today it makes you cry what they have done to the team...

J.A. Morris said...

Nice write-up on this issue!

Claremont/Byrne/Austin is the best creative team ever, with Lee-Kirby-Sinnott coming in 2nd. Hard to believe it's been over 30 years now since Byrne and Austin quit the title.

I just recently re-read the first Mesmero story. I know he's a bad guy, but I've always felt bad for him because he always comes off as such a loser! I think of 'X-men' #58, when he and Magneto are attacked by Sentinels. Magneto is revealed to be a robot, Mesmero is crushed to find out he "served" a robot.

Fred W. Hill said...

This story was a lot of fun and a great lead in to the new X-Men's second round with Magneto. I felt that same initial confusion dbutler mentioned, wondering what the heck's going on here. Never thought about it before, but this story almost seems a prelude to the mindgames that would be played with Jean to far greater and tragic effect later on in the series. Yeah, yeah, I know it's not really supposed to be Jean, but at the time Claremont & Byrne certainly intended Phoenix to be Jean so I'm not gonna play along with the retcon that she was just a doppelganger in this story. That last panel is a classic -- Magneto never looked so meanacing before, clearly crackling with power and ready to lower the boom.

William said...

Dang, I was so busy with work yesterday I wasn't able to comment on this article, but that issue of X-Men is a great read. In fact I just recently re-read it (along with the entire run of Uncanny X-Men from Giant Size #1 all the way through Byrne's last issue).

I agree with J.A. that the Byrne/Claremont/Austin team was the best ever in comics. (To be quite honest, I actually consider John Byrne on his own, or with just about anybody, to be the best creative team in comics, but that's just me).

Fred touched on an idea that I heartily embrace. The idea of the "original creative intent" of a given story at the time it was written. This notion has allowed me to continue to read old comics and still be able to enjoy them, despite all the retcons that have been heaped upon them over the years. At first, the Phoenix retcon didn't bother me all that much until I came to realize it kind of tainted all those great Claremont/Byrne X-Men tales (especially the Dark Phoenix Saga). But of course when those stories were created at the time, there was every intention that Phoenix was actually Jean Grey and not some alien doppelganger. So, that's how I choose to think of things when I re-read those classic tales. And many others as well.

Robert said...

I'm pretty sure this was the first American comic book I ever owned. I had no idea who these folks was (I was aware of Spidey and Hulk and the likes) and found the whole thing pretty weird at the time. I remember realising that Magneto turning up at the end was obviously a big deal because of the splash page... but I had no idea who he was, so felt a little flat that the comic ended without resolution. Hey, I was only 8 at the time, okay!

Robert said...

... of course, I should add that I think it's fab now.

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