Monday, February 13, 2012

Canadian Club: X-Men 120

X-Men #120 (April 1979)
"Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!"
Chris Claremont/John Byrne-Byrne/Terry Austin

Karen: What could be better than a comic with a super team? How about a comic with two super teams?! Yup, that's what we've got here, two teams -that's 12 super-heroes in all. It's a game of six on six, with the X-Men squaring off against Alpha Flight in their first appearance.

Karen: On a huge monitor inside some sort of military complex, we see the battle between James Hudson and the X-Men fr
om issue 109. Hudson is there, along with then-Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. The PM tells Hudson that he wants Wolverine -Weapon X -back in the fold, by any means necessary. Hudson slides some data-punch cards into a computer (this opening sequence is showing its age!) and we get five one-panel shots of each Alpha Flight member in their civilian IDs. Was it just me, or did Trudeau look cartoony?

Doug: Funny you should mention that, as I was thinking the same thing. I checked the time between issues 109 and 120 -- one might think it would be 11 months, but in reality it was 14 months. It's still hard to fathom that the X-Men were published bi-monthly for quite some time after the revival! But my point is that Byrne's art has really evolved from last Monday's review of the introduction of Weapon Alpha. I think we see his stamp on facial expressions really emerge -- he was always a master of lips and chins; one could almost hear the sounds being uttered from the character speaking. Additionally, a hallmark of his later years on the X-Men and especially on the Fantastic Four were the lanky, angular figures -- particularly seen when walking. That begins to emerge here.

Karen: Meanwhile, half-a-world away, our merry mutants are leaving Japan, saying their good-byes to the always charming Sunfire. In addition, Wolverine says a quiet -and surprisingly sweet -farewell to Mariko, Sunfire's cousin. Byrne and Austin give her a very traditional look, and I have to say, I think this might have been a little over the top. The team boards a private plane provided by lawyer Jeryn Hogarth, who is connected to Misty Knight and Colleen Wing (remember the Daughters of the Dragon from our Marvel Team-Up review?). Everyone has crashed out on the plane, including Cyclops and Colleen , who appear to be quite close. Jean's been presumed dead for what, a few weeks comic-time? Hmmmph. But suddenly, a freak blizzard appears. Storm tries to redirect it but discovers that someone else is controlling it! To avoid tearing the aircraft apart, they let the blizzard guide them where it wants: that turns out to be Calgary.

Doug: In regard to Mariko, I wondered if Sunfire had a noble background that might explain her traditional dress. But, upon refreshing my memory, it turns out that Sunfire's mother was a "normal" civilian made ill by the atomic bombs dropped by the United States and his father was a government diplomat. However, Mariko's brother was the Silver Samurai, and a samurai is a title of military nobility. So whatever... The panel where Wolverine hands Mariko a chrysanthemum dovetails nicely with the scene we discussed last week, about hunting. Those sorts of insights are great examples of character development.

Karen: I was thinking more about how Byrne designed her facially. There's no missing the fact that she's Japanese, but it's like he used a model from an 18th
century woodcut or something. Extremely round face, tiny mouth and eyes...I don't know, it just struck me as odd.

Doug: Hey, the X-Men do have a tough time with planes, don't they? Jeez, what's the aerial body count by issue 120? And yes, I thought Scott was a little too snuggly with Colleen for my liking. Of course at this time
we all assumed that the Phoenix was really Jean; some of us still do. The manipulative blizzard was a cool plot device, and somewhat scary when Storm couldn't alter or control it.

Karen: The plane lands and is directed to a runway far from the te
rminal. From the cockpit, the X-Men can see the figure of 'Major Maple Leaf' -aka James McDonald Hudson. He says if Wolverine surrenders, no one will be hurt. Wolvie is about ready to carve himself up some Canadian bacon but Cyclops stops him. Cyke orders the pilots to take off, but a huge, mysterious figure underneath the plane not only overcomes the plane's jets, but tosses the vehicle away like a toy! Now considering we're told the plane weighs 250 tons, this is a very impressive feat, along the lines something the Hulk would pull. Since everyone already knows, I'm going to tell you that the powerful mystery man is Sasquatch. He sure seems a lot stronger here than he would ever be again! Heck, if you go by the old Marvel Universe handbooks, Hulk and Thor were only rated as being able to lift 100 tons (Hulk a little more when he was completely nuts). Of course, the handbook didn't come out 'til 1983, so how was Claremont to know where the ceiling was on super-strength?

Doug: I just wasn't buying Sasquatch's strength. Even when I read the story the very first time, I thought "no way". That is definitely Hulk-level strength; I'm not certain I could envision Thor pulling that off. And that the plane didn't come apart on the force of the throw? Ah, it's a comic book.

Karen: Sasquatch's throw is so forceful that the plane literally goes flying backwards on the tarmac and collides with a derelict hangar, the impact demolishing both. Hudson quickly flies over to look for survivors, but finds nothing, not even a body, in the wreckage. The weather suddenly becomes brutal and visibility drops to zero. It's Storm's work. She and the X-Men escaped, and are making their way towards the terminal. Scott tells Wolverine he wants some answers, but decides to have the team split up and regroup at the Calgary Tower in the center of town.

Doug: Interesting that Storm couldn't int
errupt the earlier blizzard, but now Hudson's guys can't do anything with this new development. Claremont does a great job of giving us the whole story of Wolverine's relationship to James Hudson in one page. Ya hear that?? One page. Today, two issues. Easily.

Karen: Poor Nightcrawler. Not only is he the first to be captured by the Canadian team, he's taken out with one punch. Although we see only their feet, it is Aurora and Northstar who bring him down. Aurora feels badly for harming a fellow mutant. I always wondered w
hy Byrne (and I believe it was Byrne who developed Alpha Flight) would make two of the members mutant twins, the male of the pair being a super-fast jerk. Sound familiar?

Doug: I thought the most interesting panel in the book, and maybe even since Nightcrawler's introduction back in Giant-Size X-Men #1, was the knock-out punch delivered in the blinding light. For the first time we see Kurt's face with no shadows on it. It just struck me that this was new territory for him. He's not a bad looking guy in the light, but the shadows certainly do give him that demonic ominous-ness. New word, by the way. Speaking of Northstar and Aurora, they do hold hands when they fly... sounds like "Ultimate Alpha Flight".

Karen: Cyclops, Colossus, and Misty (and the two pilots?) have made it to the tower, but there's no sign of the rest. But in a near-by clothing store, Banshee waits as Storm tries on some outfits. It seems ridiculous, but is explained by having Colleen think it a good idea to try to disguise the stand-out-in-a-crowd Ororo. However, Hudson has a way of tracking the mutants, and blasts his way into the shop. It's worth noting that he realizes a moment later that his unnecessarily dramatic entrance has frightened the by-standers, who are not used to seeing super-heroes. Banshee tries to use his scream but is still in bad shape from pushing himself past his limits in Japan. The strain is too much for him, and he keels over. This enrages Storm, and an enraged Storm is a scary thing indeed. She essentially creates a hurricane in the shop and Hudson is shocked by her power. He makes a strategic retreat. Interesting to note here is that as Storm grows more furious, even her word balloons change to take on a sinister appearance, much as they would with Phoenix in later issues. As Hudson flies off, Cyclops and Colossus see his energy trail and lightning from the building.

Doug: Banshee's a h
ero, isn't he? Ororo is so exotic -- I don't know if it's her stature, her white hair, or the way her eyes are drawn like Little Orphan Annie (uh, not that I mean Little Orphan Annie is exotic), but there's just something about her -- even in the heavy Canadian haute coutere, she's alluring. Hudson's entrance is just stupid, and he's self-deprecating in his thought balloons. Marvel's feet-of-clay heroes, even north of the border. A nice touch. Back then, Claremont "got it". Great comparison of Storm to Dark Phoenix -- not only do the word balloons change, but her speech patterns become overtly aggressive.

Karen: That leaves one m
ember of our troop unaccounted for: Wolverine. As he walks through a seedy section of town, lost in his thoughts (and surprisingly off-guard), Sasquatch reaches out from an alley and grabs the runt, smashing him against one side of the alley and the other, which knocks Wolvie out. Ah yes, these were the days before Wolverine became invincible. Storm and Banshee have rejoined Cyclops and Colossus (the non-mutants have gone off to procure legal aid!) and a determined Cyke tells his team that, "The X-Men didn't start this fight, people--but we're sure as Hell gonna finish it. If necessary, over Alpha Flight's dead bodies!" Hoo boy! Next issue is gonna be a knock-down, drag-out battle royale!

Doug: OK, question on the sneak attack. Why didn't Wolverine smell Sasquatch? Were Logan's mutant powers still pretty undefined at this point? Correct me if I'm wrong, but h
is main power is his healing factor. He is, however, a tracker of supernatural skill. So why didn't he smell the attack coming? Cyke's big and bad at the end, isn't he? You know, we've run some Open Forums on leaders -- Cap, Reed Richards, Cyke... This is certainly a unique fellow among team leaders, is he not? I mean he's a decent tactician, cares for his troops -- but his brooding personality really spills over into this scene. Well if it's going to be all that, then I can't wait!


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, this is the stuff - my first ever issue of X-men (about a month later I found issue #118 in the back of a spinner rack - obviously the store clerk forgot to remove it). Despite all of the references to events in previous issues, it was a good jumping-off point, with a nice suspenseful story, full of teaser references to the various Alpha Flight members. It just made you clamor for more!
By the way, Aurora and Northstar were holding hands in that scene because I think they have to to make the blinding flash of light, so I don't think any kinkiness was intended.

Doug said...

Edo --

Oh, I'm sure there was no kinkiness. My reference was to the Ultimates 2 and 3 series where there was little doubt as to the "relationship" between the Maximoff twins.

Byrne's depiction here sort of screams "Wonder Twin powers -- activate!"


dbutler16 said...

I also did not buy Sasquatch’s feat of strength. The Hulk is the only Marvel character I can envision pulling that off. As far as the plane not falling apart, well, anytime someone picks up a huge object, such as a building or a ship, it should fall apart, so I just go with the “it’s a comic book” excuse there.

It’s funny that you should reference Quicksilver when discussing Northstar, because I was just reading a Marvel Team-Up Annual with Alpha Flight and that exact same thought came to me. Not only is he a super-fast super-jerk, but he’s very protective of his sister, and he is very angry when she chooses a beau he doesn’t approve of (Sasquatch in this case).

And yes, I though Scott moved rather fast, too, but in re-reading my old X-Men, I don’t think the Scott-Jean romance was quite the great romance I had thought when younger. By the time they finally told each other how they felt, the book got cancelled. Then, when the new X-Men come along, Jean chooses to leave the team and Scott chooses to stay. Even though they still dated, they both chose opposite paths, even at the expense of their relationship. Then Jean (apparently ) dies, once or twice, leading to more time apart. Plus, while she’s Phoenix, their relationship is strained most of the time, though I do seem to recall a couple of nice scenes between them somewhere. Then Jean really does die…well, for the first time anyway. So she’s totally out of the picture for many years, and Scott again hooks up rather quickly and eventually gets married. So, in retrospect, not really the greatest relationship.

Banshee was one of my faves, and it was very heroic the way he lost his powers in #119. Good stuff. I think there are several reasons that Ororo looks exotic, but the fact that she doesn’t have any pupils when she uses her powers must be right up there! Speaking of Ororo and Dark Phoenix, remember “Dark Storm” or whatever it was she became around #150 when Dr. Doom kidnapped the X-Men? Claremont certainly wasn’t above recycling and idea, was he? And I do miss the days when Wolverine wasn’t indestructible and immortal. I like to call them the good old days.

Yes, Hudson was indeed stupid, as are seemingly all Marvel heroes, not to mention the “common” people.
I don’t think that Wolverine’s main power early on was his healing factor. In fact, I think it was a couple of years before it even got mentioned, other than Wolverine once saying “I’m a fast healer”. However, he certainly did have it by now. I think his sharp senses were his main mutant power early on, though I could be wrong.

dbutler16 said...

Oh yeah, Edo, my first ever issue of the X-Men was #117. I also bought 118 and 119, but for some reason wasn't able to get the next several issues. I thnk I started collecting again with #125. It was actually a little while before I got #120 and 121 because, due to the first appearance of Alpha Flight, they wre rather expensive, and my LCS didn't sell back issues very cheap anyway.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I got the reference to Ultimates - not because I ever read that series, but because the topic got discussed ad nauseum on quite a few blogs and forum threads.
As for the Wonder Twins - hah! I'm pretty sure that popped into my head when I first read this book.

Anthony said...

Karen said :

He sure seems a lot stronger here than he would ever be again!

The matter of strength would be settled in Incredible Hulk Annual 8
later that year.

Inkstained Wretch said...

You know, I have a copy of this one and the next issue and I don't think I have ever gotten around to reading either. I certainly didn't recognize any of the plot details Doug n' Karen wrote up.

That's the perils of collecting too much: It becomes more about ownership than the pleasures of the thing itself ...

Garett said...

It was fun to see the Canadian references in this, as my city is close to Calgary. The half-Maple Leaf outfit seems like it was influenced by the Canada Cup hockey jerseys of the '70s.

dbutler16 said...

Garett, it's funny you should mention that you enjoyed seeing Canada in this comic, because I recall reading in the letters column several Canadians complaining of all the inaccuracies in the depiction of their country.

Anonymous said...

I wish someone would publish the collected works of T.M. Maple!

Garett said...

Hey dbutler, I don't remember the specifics, but I'm not so big on exact details. Remember the poster that came out way back when, that was the exact layout of the Enterprise on Star Trek? A friend of mine had that up, and I thought it was the dumbest thing. Who wants to know the layout? The exciting thing was the story, characters--and I liked the idea that a new room or deck on the Enterprise could pop up each week, that the writers would invent something different we hadn't seen before.

Anyway, back to Canada...Byrne lived in Alberta, went to Alberta College of Art if I'm correct, so I wonder what details he got wrong?

I do remember TM Maple's letters! Seems to me he was quite thoughtful and in-depth.

vancouver mark said...

The main mistake I remember was that on the opening page they mispelled the name of Canada's capital city. Don't know how Byrne would have missed that one, although he was the artist and not the editor.

I'm in BC and was thrilled beyond measure to see a relatively realistic depiction of my neighbouring province in my favorite Marvel comic. They did overdo the snow stereotype a bit, but it was way better than the Hulk's Canadian adventures a few years before.
I still think this was one of the best introductions of any new team. (Although nothing will likely ever match Kirby's first amazing intro of the Inhumans, imho)

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