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 back 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 issues. 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-tales, 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!