Monday, February 6, 2012

When Weapon Alpha Met Weapon X: X-Men 109

X-Men #109 (February 1978)
"Home Are the Heroes!"
Chris Claremont-John Byrne/Terry Austin

Doug: Man, this issue just feels like a warm blanket on a snowy day (how about that, Karen?) or a well-worn pair of blue jeans. After several months away, it's good to be back with the All-New, All-Different X-Men!

Karen: Hey, I may not know about snow, but a warm blanket is always a good thing, as is a return to our favorite period in X-Men history.

Doug: And speaking of being home, as I did above, the X-Men are home after their battle with the Imperial Guard and basically saving the Shi'ar universe -- well, after one short detour involving Danny Rand. It's not lost on our heroes that they've done nothing but fight, fight, fight since the new team was assembled. With the exception of the time off right before the Sentinels story (which led directly into the birth of Phoenix), they've been at if full-tilt since G-S X-Men #1. This is a special issue in the X-canon, as Chris Claremont uses the majority of the book to really let us know who these X-Men are. I'd certainly invite our readers to jump into this part of the review, as I am positing that we've certainly never seen the amount of characterization (indeed, some of what we are told is for the very first time) that takes place in this book.

Doug: Some readers might find it a waste of space, but John Byrne and Terry Austin really treat us to a beautiful 7-panel introduction to Storm's softer (ahem...) side. They just add another layer onto the exciting Egyptian-thief backstory we'd learned of in the Juggernaut tale of X-Men #'s 101-103. I'd like to also make a fashion-police comment on this scene, and I know my partner will want to leap atop her soapbox on the issue of female bottom coverings. Just check out this panel of Storm's costume as she enters her apartment. Simply tasteful. That is it.

Karen: The whole scene just screams "Mother Nature" and certainly in those days, Ororo had that Earth Mother personality down flat. Now I do sort of wonder how the attic floor stood up to all that water, but that's just the homeowner in me. As for her "bottom attire," it was nice to go back to a time when female heroes were not all dressed like strippers or porn stars. Pretty much all the women you see in comics today would need Brazillian waxes for the suits they "wear." Storm's costume here is sexy but tasteful -of course, having said that, I have to note she also sheds said costume at the end of the scene!

Doug: Well, I guess you could say there's something for everyone then! I do recall that, as a pre-teen reading these stories, they were quite titillating. There were just certain scenes that were being marketed to my demographic...

Doug: We then get the oft-obligatory recap of the past few issues' events, as seen through the eyes of Jean Grey. As long as we're soliciting your opinions on old school vs. new school, does anyone want to sound off on a debate of the in-story flashback as opposed to the modern version, which is a page one summary? The big revelation in the flashback is that Corsair doesn't want Jean to tell Scott that he is Scott's father (question -- was Alex mentioned in the Shi'ar story? I think he was shown very briefly). Jean agrees, Ororo overhears, and chastises Jean for her decision in the conspiracy.

Karen: The flashback, just like narrative boxes and thought balloons, has its place in comics. They are tools, and when the writer knows what he's doing, they can be effective. I thought this flashback was well-done. Storm came off as a bit haughty in those days. You know, one thing that never truly worked for me was Claremont's attempt to show some sort of powerful friendship between Storm and Jean. It seemed like it mostly developed off-panel somewhere and I never felt it.

Doug: In many ways their only connection was as the female members of the team. If I recall, and we know that's risky, I think Claremont and John Bolton delved a bit further into the relationship in the add-ons that ran in Classic X-Men. But don't anyone hold me to that -- I haven't read those since publication, but would like to acquire the two tpbs of those stories -- X-Men: Vignettes.

Doug: Other characterization upgrades are the growing romance between Banshee and Moira MacTaggert. Charles at one point gives a bit of a sideways glance at Sean, but he's brought Princess Lilandra back for himself, so no worries I suppose. Look-ins on Nightcrawler and Colossus in their quarters reveal that Kurt is a classic film fan and Piotr misses his parents, and the good ol' USSR, deeply. Further building on the relationships between teammates, Kurt "bamfs" into the living room where Scott Summers sits, brooding. Imagine that. Scott's extremely rude to Kurt, but Kurt holds his own in the conversation. As they talk, with Kurt somewhat lecturing Scott, there seems to be a moment where Scott begins to soften. But that is interrupted by the entrance of Banshee, who is recruiting people to go on a picnic.

Karen: Peter's growing homesickness would come into play later on. It made sense for this character, who was the least worldly of all of them (even Ororo). Kurt has a date with Amanda, who we would eventually discover was his adopted sister...there were some ideas that really should never have seen the light of day! But Kurt's speech to Scott was excellent. It's hard to remember how much Scott isolated himself because of his deadly eyebeams. I don't think it's ever even discussed any more. But at the time of this story, he still questioned whether he could even have a relationship with Jean.

Doug: Whoa -- what about Kurt's "sister"? When did that happen? If it was shortly after the Jim Lee book, then I have no knowledge of that.

Karen: It was all part of Claremont's need to over-complicate everyone's backstory. Took place in one of the annuals, I think. Turned out Kurt's adopted gypsy mom was a powerful sorceress and so was his girlfriend/sister. But he didn't recognize Amanda as his sister because of magic or something like that. You really don't want to know.

Doug: I will take that Jedi-mind trick from you -- "I really don't want to know". Solves that problem, then.

Doug: As part of this vignette, we get one of the most memorable scenes of this early Claremont/Byrne/Austin collaboration, as Storm rebukes Wolverine for wanting to go along on the excursion "to hunt". However, the runt defines his version of hunting in a way that has always stuck with me: "I said huntin', Honeybunch -- I said nothin' about killin'. It takes no skill t' kill. What takes skill is sneakin' up close enough to a skittish doe t' touch her..." Storm apologizes. In between, we've gotten a couple of teasers about a military operation apparently targeting one of the X-Men. The second time we see these guys, it's apparent that they are Canadians, and one of them looks to be in costume.

Karen: This was a masterful scene, because it revealed a facet of Wolverine the readers never saw before, and did it quickly. We realize this guy is not a total thug. I think it was around this time that we began to see Wolverine's desire, at times, for peace. Of course, at other times, all he desired was tearing someone apart.

Doug: We are moved ahead in the story a bit, and Wolverine's at the river now, about to touch his doe. Suddenly she starts and darts, and a menacing-looking Canuck bursts up through the ground. Calling himself "Weapon Alpha", he speaks as if he knows Wolverine. Ah ha -- this is James MacDonald Hudson, of the Weapon X project from which Professor Xavier recruited Wolverine. It seems that our neighbors to the north want their investment back! Of course, Logan isn't going to take this lying down, so it's game on! Hudson is surprised at the ferocity of Wolverine's attack, but is able to right his defenses and dispense a little punishment of his own. As they battle, our other merry-makers splash around or sun themselves on the river bank.

Karen: Byrne and Austin do a great job depicting Wolverine's fury in that panel, as well as the sheer power of Hudson's punch to Wolverine's jaw. You could almost feel it yourself! I had to laugh when Hudson, puffed up about his battlesuit, claimed it made him the "equal of any Avenger!" Yeah, sure, pal. I think Thor or Iron Man would have him on his ass in a couple of seconds. One last comment: notice in the lake scene that Moira has a one-piece swimsuit on; comic artists today have no idea what that is. Ororo also has a suit on that is not just a piece of string between her buttocks. That is all.

Doug: I didn't included that art sample due to space considerations, but did notice it when I read the story. Ororo's definitely "sexed up" a bit in the beach scene, given her more modest coverings we referenced above. Did you feel that there was a relationship between Piotr and Ororo in these days? It was always somewhat ambiguous to me.

Karen: It was hard to say, as it seemed to change a bit over time. I think back in the Cockrum days he exhibited an extreme protectiveness of her. But she never seemed to reciprocate those feelings. Of course, Kurt seemed interested in her too for awhile.

Doug: Of course the battle between Weapon Alpha and Wolverine eventually intrudes on the solitude of the picnic-ers. As Wolverine's temporarily out of commission, Piotr rises to confront Hudson. Hudson threatens him, and it's a Colossus-sized punch that deposits Hudson about 40 yards away! Sensing that this is not going well, Hudson uproots a large fir tree, only to have it incinerated in his hands by Storm. As she brings the thunder and lightning, Hudson makes a little lightning of his own. However, his blast glances off of Colossus and grazes Moira's forehead. Banshee's immediately into the water to pull her out, and then lights into Hudson with his full sonic powers. Hudson decides that escape is better than valor at this point and flees. As he blinks out, he mentions that the next time he'll have to bring "Alpha Flight" with him. The X-Men rally to get Moira back to medical attention, but before they go they ask Wolverine what this is all about. He says he and Hudson used to be like brothers, but this is going to be serious. And we're left holding the bag for another year!

Karen: I loved how powerful Colossus was here. Peter was so much the backbone of the team, unflinchingly loyal, brave, and true to himself. He was uncomplicated; not stupid, but he knew who he was, and was comfortable with it, Plus he just looked fantastic! Speaking of looks, when Banshee goes nuts and goes after Hudson, is it just me, or does he look a bit like the freaky-looking Banshee of old? you know, the one with the long face and blanked out eyes? I recall at the time I read this book I assumed that Hudson had some sort of teleportation device in his suit, but I believe he actually had something that allowed him to stay stationary relative to the Earth's rotation, so it only seemed like he suddenly disappeared. That sounds like a Byrne idea to me.


Edo Bosnar said...

This outstanding issue right at the onset of the Byrne/Austin tenure as X-men artists pretty much sums up everything that made that run so great: the little bits of human interaction between the team members, great action scenes, set-up for a future story (the introduction of Alpha Flight) and some tantalizing hints about Wolverine's (not yet hopelessly convoluted) past. Great stuff.
By the way, the annual featuring the reveal about Amanda is #4. Otherwise a rather good story, except for that really creepy aspect of having Kurt's lover turn out to be his adoptive sister...

dbutler16 said...

I certainly don’t consider the characterization a waste of space at all. To me, that’s one thing that set the X-Men apart and made it the best comic of its day. Also, I loved the “Mother Earth” aspect of Storm and was sad to see it fade away, starting, I think, with the Mohawk. And yes, I’ve seen some pretty tasteless female costumes of the years, not to mention highly impractical for fighting crime! I’ve never understood why a female superhero would choose to go into action wearing heels. Really?

I guess I haven’t seen enough of the modern one page recaps to be able to properly compare it to the in story recap, but it sounds like an idea with merit. You “waste” fewer pages telling what just went on, plus it often seems forced to have a character recount what they just went through. Not in this instance, mind you. I do miss thought balloons, though. I wouldn’t mind the caption with the characters’ thoughts, but sometimes it’s tough to tell who is “thinking”.

As fas as the friendship between Kean and Ororo happening off panel, that reminds me of a nice little backup story by Claremont in the Classic X-Men series. Maybe Claremont felt the same are Karen. So yes, Doug’s memory is good there. I know there was at least one such story. Even though I don’t remember the specifics of Nightcrawler’s speech to Cyclops, I do remember being impressed by it.

As far as the revelation that Amanda was Kurt’s “sister”, that was definitely before Jim Lee. I think it was Annual #4, in 1980. I agree with Karen that Claremont seemed to need to over-complicate everyone’s backstory. Frankly, it almost seems as if he ran out of good ideas and so had to come up with a bunch of nonsense.

I loved Wolverine’s “hunt” and Storm’s misconception. That adds some wonderful depth to Wolverine’s character. It was such a nice idea that JM DeMatties “borrowed” it in the opening scene of Marvel Team-Up #117.

I felt that Piotr always had a crush on Ororo, but the feeling was not mutual. Ororo thought of Priotr as a little brother. Let’s face it, in the early days, she was the only unattached female on the team, so naturally that’s where the bachelors’ eyes would gravitate…except for Wolverine, of course. :-)

To me, Colossus is what made the X-Men feel like a family. I think it’s because he’s the only one who really had a family, and as he clearly missed them, he tried to make the X-Men his surrogate family. He treated his fellow X-Men like siblings, especially in his protectiveness of them. He also had the soul of a poet. When I was a kid, I thought Colossus and Storm were OK, but in re-reading the X-Men a couple of years ago, I gained newfound appreciation for their wonderful characters. There weren’t just superheroes but real people. As far as Banshee, yes, in that page you’ve shown, I agree he does look like the Banshee of old. By the way, the Silver Age Banshee was one ugly dude, if I may say so. Or aesthetically challenged, if you prefer. He had a bit of a monkey face.
Nice foreshadowing about Alpha Flight, too, though it did indeed take a while before we would know what Alpha Flight was. Yet another home run by Claremont/Byrne/Austin.

Dougie said...

What a nostalgia trip! Right back to a Friday evening in the winter of 1978! This issue was hugely significant to me- it was the first new X-Men story I'd read since # 100, thanks to spotty distribution in West Central Scotland.
I'd glimpsed Phoenix on two covers reprinted in Foom Magazine so I was fascinated by her, Lilandra and by the tiny images of the Starjammers and Imperial Guard. I knew Byrne's work from The Champions but there was a realism and detail to this comic that was thrilling. X-Men immediately replaced Avengers as my late-70s favourite.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this issue. Up to this point, Xmen had been superb, but it had all been 70mm: Nefaria, Sentinels, birth of Phoenix, Juggernaut, and for a bit of relaxation, the Shi’ar epic. This issue is mostly just the Xmen at home, but you still remember it as a superb issue. Now that’s good stuff.

I like the fact that Orora is beautiful & womanly but still verrrrrry powerful. The girls often seemed to divide into girlish-but-not-powerful (Jan, Natasha, Medusa) or powerful-but-masculine (Valkyrie). I always thought they got it right with Storm, and, later with Wanda. I always thought Storm’s nudity was more about her connection to nature than gratuitous. The first time we met her, she was butt naked, but her modesty protected by a conveniently-wafted hairdo.

As Edo says, Amanda Sefton is revealed as Kurt’s adoptive sister in Annual #4. IMHO, maybe the single greatest annual ever....Nightcrawler’s Inferno (someone corrected me on this ending a while back!). You might think it was crap and over-complication by Claremont, but he seriously went for it in that annual in terms of literary reference, all of it relevant to Kurt’s catholic back story. I never thought it was creepy that she was his adoptive sister. They weren’t blood, more like childhood sweethearts, as I read it. You lot have read too much Modern’s corrupted you! Too many butt-floss bikinis.

Peter’s homesickness, yes, but not because he was less worldly so much as less western, I think. And the others all grew up in big cities, he was a farm boy.

Ref. Logan, what I took from that was not to do with Wolvie’s ‘thuggishness’. It seemed to me that we had seen him portrayed as an animal in a negative way (‘red in tooth and claw’) and now we see that atavism in the context of him being part of nature. Feral and savage, but not gratuitously violent.


Inkatained Wretch said...

I have this issue at home, but I haven't read it in a long, long while. I bought it fairly cheaply back when Alpha Flight was hot. I then socked it away assuming it would only appreciate in value. I'll bet the selling price hasn't budged since I got it. Sigh.

This really was John Byrne at his prime, wasn't it? Everything seems so rich, full and highly detailed wiithout the art looking overly busy. I didn't like the way his style had evolved by the 90s, but here it was stellar.

Fred W. Hill said...

I really liked that interaction between Kurt & Scott, highlighting one of those little bits about the Marvel superteams, particularly the FF and Cap's Kooky Quartet era Avengers, mainly that the heroes were familiar with one another out of costume and excepting Cap & Hawkeye, the public knew their real names too and it was rare that they were referred to by their superhero names. Re-reading the early FF mags, it stood out when Johnny or Ben were referred to as "Torch" or "Thing". Naturally, the X-Men, both old and new, were trying to keep their civilian identities secret from the public but certainly at home there was no need for Scott to call Kurt "Nightcrawler", apparently forgetting that despite their mutant powers and costumes, they were still human. These type of stories that focused on the human aspects of the heroes were part of made me enjoy reading Marvel comics from the Silver & Bronze ages.

Karen said...

Wait a minute... a post from "Inkatained Wretch"?? Perhaps a cousin of our own Inkstained Wretch??

Inkstained Wretch said...

"Inkatained Wretch" is actually a Skrull impersonating me. Watch out!

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