Thursday, August 25, 2011

Run Through the Jungle: X-Men 116

X-Men #116 (Dec. 1978)
"To Save the Savage Land!"
Chris Claremont -writer/co-plotter
John Byrne -artist/co-plotter
Terry Austin -inker

Karen: With this issue we wrap up our latest series of X-Men reviews, but we're going out with a bang! This is another well-paced, exciting story. This is a creative team at the top of their game here, and it shows in every page.

Karen: The X-Men and Ka-Zar have made their way to the vast city of Garokk, the Sun God. Byrne and Austin deliver a stunning double page spread (on pages 2 and 3, just like last issue) that shows just how sprawling the city is. Garokk has caused the ecology of the Savage Land to become unbalanced, causing snow storms in the once-lush tropical valley. As the X-Men and Ka-Zar plan their entry into the city, they are attacked from above by warriors riding pterodactyl-like beasts. The tide quickly turns against them, and all but Storm, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine are captured and taken ba
ck to face Garokk.

Doug: Yeah, although the team was picked apart pretty quickly, I'd not say that it was because they fought as individuals without a plan -- that had been our gripe in past issu
es. No, here it was due to the surprise and methodology of the assault.
Karen: As Doug mentioned in a previous review, this was around the time that Wolverine started to take on more of the spotlight. Certainly he stands out in this issue. Once their enemies have taken off with as many captives as they can carry, Wolverine takes on a leadership role, saying that they have to break into the city and free their friends. He has a conversation with Zabu, Ka-Zar's pet sabretooth, and sends him off to get help. One of my favorite lines from this era of X-Men occurs here; when Storm comments that there is more to Wolverine than meets the eye, the pint-sized tough says, "At my size babe, that ain't hard!"

Doug: It seems like with each passing issue, you could argue that it's Wolverine's "coming out party". No doubt that his evolution to Marvel superstar is in full swing now.

Karen: Our trio starts making their way down the slope towards the city. It's at this point that one of the most infamous Wolverine incidents occurs. A lone guard stands before an entrance. Nightcrawler offers to bamf over and knock him out, but Wolverine does it his way -the implication being that he killed the guy. Storm thinks to herself, "He's like the great cats on the veldt. When he strikes, there is no mercy in him." Nowadays it might seem like nothing, but back then I remember wondering if I had interpreted this correctly. Did a super-hero actually kill someone? And Storm and Nightcrawler were OK with that? I still have to wonder about the second part of that question.

Doug: Yep, my thoughts at the time precisely.
I think for Storm, as she even said, Wolverine's behavior would be... not acceptable, but I guess not surprising as she related it to the predators she knew. For Kurt? Despite the persecution he'd endured, he was at the core a hero. I, and I'm sure you and our readers, knowing of Wolverine's background as an operative for the Canadian government, can accept this whole scene. But at the time it was indeed shocking. You know, I'm taken in my memories back to the "Operation Galactic Storm" mega-arc in the Avengers and other titles, when the Black Knight ultimately killed the Kree Supreme Intelligence. That was debated between Dane and Captain America, and the Black Knight carried it out even after Cap's protest. But here, it's the Wolverine show, with his lead and his methods. There was no debate. So in regard to your latter question, about Storm and Nightcrawler accepting this? I'd say there was really no time to process it in the immediate sense, but certainly some off-panel debriefing over the next several issues/adventures.

Karen: Wolverine and company sneak in through the
sewer, only to encounter a pack of little vicious dinosaurs. Storm makes quick work of them, flushing them away as it were. The trio climbs up and out of the stinky lower levels to a vantage point high above a colossal arena. They can barely see their friends, bound to columns on a stage far distant. Wolverine says that neither he nor Storm could get there in time -can Nightcrawler teleport that far away? In a nice bit of character building, we see Kurt wondering if he can make it -he's never done anything like it before. But he never displays any doubt; all he tells Wolverine is, "Watch me." Gotta love that bravado!

Doug: You know, even in this scene Wolverine follows up his murder (is it murder in war? I guess what he did to the guard was an act of war...) of Garokk's guard with the running through of the raptor that bit his arm. And by the way, is this one of the first mentions of Wolverine's healing factor as his main mutant power?

Karen: We see that Cyclops, Banshee, Ka-Zar, and Colossus are all on the stage, with Garokk and Zaladane telling them that they must be sacrificed for the greater good. They've built a fire around Colossus, who is restrained by vibranium bonds, and whose body is starting to glow red-hot. Suddenly, everyone's favorite blue elf appears and removes the binder over Cyclops' visor. In short order the X-Men are free again, and rejoined by Storm and Wolverine.

Doug: With chaos on their side for once, the X-Men are a formidable bunch!

Karen: As the tide turns against him, Garokk makes a break for it. It turns out all the energy he's used building his city has left him weakened; he must recharge himself. Cyke sees him take off and follows him, blasting through a door to get to him. Cyke chases him up to top of the domed city. We finally get an explanation of sorts as to how the city's construction
has damaged the Savage Land. The city was built on top of a geothermal heat sink that keeps the place warm, bringing the temperature down. Sure, that's good enough for me! Garokk taps into the energy grid of the city and he and Cyke start blasting each other most spectacularly.

Doug: At least we got an explanation!

Karen: Their battle causes the dome to collapse. The X-Men, seemingly always in such catastrophic situations, blast their way out of the rumbling city. Cyclops and Garokk tumble down into a deep shaft. Banshee saves Cyke while Storm goes after Garokk. Every life is precious to her. But she is unable to save Garokk. The way it is drawn it appears that a piece of debris strikes Storm in the head, and that is why she can't save the Petrified Man. But Claremont's narrative indicates that Storm hesitates and that's why she loses him. In any case, she comes up empty-handed, and distraught.

Doug: Yes, in regard to Storm's "failure" to save Garokk, I wondered too if this book was produced using the "Marvel Method". But by this time Claremont and Byrne were listed as co-plotters, so maybe it was just a slip in Claremont's dialogue. And you reference the once-again blasting their way out... Do you know how many times the original team would have been toast without this group's firepower?

Karen: The team regroups and says their good-byes to Ka-Zar and Karl Lykos. They head out of the Savage Land on a primitive boat, only to sail right into a storm! Typical X-Men. These Savage Land tales may not get all the notoriety of many of the later X-ta
les, but they were fantastic, fun stories. A lot of writers could learn much from Claremont's ability to keep the action coming while still giving us nice insights into the characters. Byrne and Austin are just magical.
Doug: We just covered six issues, and look at what happened! I feel like I need to catch my breath. Having purchased all of these issues from the spinner racks, this series of reviews has brought that magic back to me. And when you consider that over in the Avengers the "Korvac Saga" was taking place, while the FF were heading toward their "Search for Galactus"... what a magical time to have been a kid at the convenience store!


dbutler16 said...

I know that in later issues both Storm and Nightcrawler did talk to Wolvie about his penchant for killing, but they probably needed to let it slide here.

Yes, “Watch me” from Nightcrawler was great!

This may have been the first mention of Wolverine’s healing factor. I know it wasn’t something mentioned for a while, and it seemed to gradually grow throughout the years until it’s now reached a ridiculous point to where you could probably dismember the guy and he’d still survive. I remember one issue which I think was the first mention of his healing factor where he merely said “I’m a fast healer”. Was that in this issue? Then there’s the issue of his claws, which I’m not sure were always envisioned as being born with him as bone and later covered with adamantium, but that’s a story for another day.

And yes, even as a kid I’d often thought about how much more powerful the new X-Men were than the originals.

MattComix said...

I often find myself comparing Terry Austin's inking on this X-Men run to his later inking of Byrne's pencils on the first few issues of Superman. It might as well be two different guys IMO.

Dougie said...

It's nice to see a cover featuring two X-Men who will be overshadowed by their team-mates as the series progresses.

I bought this issue in my local newsagent but it only just struck me, on reading this article, after so many decades: in what way does Kurt resemble an elf,exactly? Vulcan ears aside, I see fangs, pointed tail, brimstone...Was this some in-joke about the Pini's Elfquest?

J.A. Morris said...

Another good writeup.

It's funny, in all the interviews Claremont's done about this era, I can't recall anyone asking him about Wolverine killing the guard in 116.

I'm guessing Storm & Nightcrawler would be okay because of where and when it happened? It was more of a "war" atmosphere than a "good guys vs. super-villains" fight in New York? Or because they just had 2 friends "die", they overlooked Logan's actions so that more X-men didn't die? Some food for thought.

Dougie wrote:
"It's nice to see a cover featuring two X-Men who will be overshadowed by their team-mates as the series progresses."

I was sad to see Colossus pushed to the back and (eventually) turned evil and "killed". My favorite X-men back then were Wolverine, Colossus & Storm(I could take or leave the rest). I thought Claremont wrote some good scenes for him, where he'd talk about missing his family, that sort of thing. Plus, he was such a great-looking character during the Byrne-Austin issues.

William said...

Boy, they sure don't make 'em like this anymore. Say what you want about Claremont or Byrne, but they produced one of the greatest comic-book series of all time in the Uncanny X-Men. In fact, just about every X-Men comic ever worth reading was during they're tenure, and this one is no exception.

A fast paced, fun and exciting story, beautiful artwork and great character building. What more could you want? It just saddens me that comics will probably never be as good or as satisfying as this again.

If you ask me to this day... "Do you like the X-Men?". I'll say "Love 'em". But when I think about it, it's just these X-Men that I love. After Byrne left and the "dream team" was no more, the book just lost its magic for me and never got it back. But I am grateful to have the back issues to enjoy and rediscover that old X-magic all over again.

John Lindwall said...

I totally agree with WIlliam (and others) who talk about the greatness of this run of the X-Men. I was buying these issues off the racks in junior high when these came out. We lived for the next issue -- we re-read each one again and again. The art was fantastic, the stories as well.

Thank you, Bronze Age Babies, for re-creating that feeling for me.

Mars Will Send No More said...

He is like the great cats of the veldt! When he strikes, there is no mercy in him!

This was the artistic Apex of the X-men for many, many years. What great stories!

Our other favorite Wolverine moment from these days: Wolvie gets set to go "hunting" while the group plans a picnic. Storm castigates him for going to kill the woodland creatures for entertainment. He tells her to get off her high horse and quit judging him. It doesn't take any skill to kill, he tells her. Getting close enough to a skittish doe that you can reach out your hand and touch her - that's what takes skill!

Wolverine ruled! Claremont took a half-baked Len Wein idea and made it into one of the richest characters at Marvel.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

J.A. Morris wrote:

"It's funny, in all the interviews Claremont's done about this era, I can't recall anyone asking him about Wolverine killing the guard in 116."

Claremont discusses it in detail in Vol. 1 of The X-Men Companion (pp. 99-100), published in 1981.

I'm paraphrasing, but Chris mentions that Byrne didn't pencil the pterodactyl patrol flying overhead, which would convey a greater element of danger in the scene. He also talks about Wolverine's personality and compares it to John Wayne's character in The Shootist.

The two volumes of The X-Men Companion are essential reading for any Uncanny X-Men fan (and no, I didn't publish it).

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