Monday, April 8, 2013

It's 2 am, Do You Know Where Your X-Men Are? X-Men 125

X-Men #125 (Sept. 1979)
"There's Something Awful on Muir Isle"
Chris Claremont/ John Byrne/ Terry Austin

Karen: Here we go kids - time for some serious X-Men fun! We had our warm up last week, a stand-alone tale, and now we'll dive into a four-part saga where everybody's favorite mutants face the terrifying mutant known as Proteus. This story line had a bit of everything, as it was also the lead-up to the Dark Phoenix saga. We can see the hints and foreshadowing here as Jean Grey begins to head over to the dark side. But these four issues have more than that -a lot of great character moments and team action. So let's get going, shall we?

Karen: We open on Moira MacTaggert testing the limits of Jean Grey's power. Moira looks stunned, while Jean, surrounded by the blazing phoenix aura -looks bored. "How much longer?" She asks. Moira tells her to power down and asks if Jean is tired. Not at all, the young woman responds. If anything, using her power makes her feel good. Moira is clearly concerned, and as the two of them go off to have a cup of tea, neither of them notices a strange figure lurking in the shadows, watching them. We get a brief recap of Jean's death and rebirth in the shuttle incident from issues 100-101, and all that has happened since. At this point in time, Jean, Moira, and Professor X all believe that the rest of the X-Men are dead, killed in the destruction of Magneto's Antarctica base in issue #113. We see how the Professor's grief kept him from being supportive of Jean, and how she decided to get away from the mansion and do some traveling, trying to get a fresh start on life. 

Doug:  Every panel is an artistic masterpiece on these first 2 1/2 pages, and there's really nothing going on of any high level of excitement!  A huge kudo right up front to colorist Glynis Wein, as well as to the usual suspects of Byrne and Austin.  Funny thought -- if the first author or artist (or even filmmaker) to have shown a shadowy figure laying in dastardly wait had copyrighted the idea, he or she would be a gazillionairre by now!  Yeah, it's an oft-used tactic, but it never ceases to raise that "hmmm..." in the reader.  The recap of Phoenix's origin and the segue-way into the next scene was very concise and cogent -- perfect for that "jumping on" fan.

Karen: Of course, the X-Men didn't die; they saved themselves, had some adventures in the Savage Land, Japan, and Canada, and have just returned to the mansion to begin formally training again. Unfortunately that's not going so well. Colossus is struggling to heave a hydraulic press off his back, and when both Wolverine and Nightcrawler each try to help him, they are easily foiled. Cyclops gets frustrated and halts the session, and jaws at the team. Lovable hot-head Wolvie points out that it's just a training session, it's not real (shades of Allen Iverson's infamous "practice" spiel) and that he doesn't jump through hoops for anyone. Cyclops realizes that this new team is so very different from the original team, he might never get them to work as effectively as a unit as the originals. But so far they've been very lucky, and they can't rely on that forever. I felt like this directly addressed some of the criticisms we've raised in our reviews of past issues -how this team, while far more powerful than the first team, never seems to work together as a team

Doug:  I laugh every time I watch that rant by Iverson. The Danger Room scene is good -- I think through the years the various writers and artists have really stretched themselves to come up with new perils.  But one has to wonder how much money was poured into that facility, as the room itself generally doesn't come out on top!  We've remarked how great both the Claremont/Cockrum and Claremont/Byrne/Austin runs were, yet here we are 33 issues into the All-New team and it feels like barely a heartbeat has passed since the end of G-S X-Men #1 when Warren asked what the heck they were going to do with 13 X-Men?  Scott's obviously distraught over the loss of Jean and Hank, as well as the Professor's absence, and just continues to push this group hard.  But like you said, this team was all loners from the start who had basically learned to use their abilities on their own.  Wolverine's really right in this argument, and I'm sure Scott knew that comparing this group to the originals on any level was probably unfair.

Karen: We then get a one page break where we see Magneto on Asteroid M, still recovering from his wounds from that fight between he and the X-Men. He's looking at a viewscreen, watching a replay of his first fight with the X-Men, when an image of his former wife, Magda, accidentally pops up. This is an interesting sequence that seems to exist for no other reason than to get the reader to say, "Hey, Magneto's wife looks exactly like the Scarlet Witch!" Yes indeed. Plant those seeds...

Doug:  You took the words right out of this reader's mouth...

Karen: In Scotland  a sinister-looking man named Jason Wyngarde sits inside a room in an inn and conjures up images of Jean, from her early Marvel Girl years to the present, and forward to a rather erotic-looking woman he calls the Black Queen. "Wyngarde" -obviously a false name -claims he has been traveling wherever Jean has gone, appearing in various guises and worming his way into her mind. He has plans to use her, for something called the Hellfire Club. Well, we all know this is not going to be good.  It seems that he must have some sort of psychic connection, as we see Jean sort of daydreaming in the midst of a breakfast conversation with Lorna Dane (aka Polaris). Jean apologizes for spacing out, then does a little show of telekinetically re-arranging the molecules in her clothes to change outfits -a nice trick, and one that it seems Claremont also had Storm use with her suit of unstable molecules if I'm not mistaken. Back at the lab on Muir Isle, Moira realizes that Jean has godlike power now, and only some self-imposed psychic circuit breakers are holding it all back to controllable levels. Out in the deepest reaches of Shi'ar space, Professor Xavier comes to the same realization, and determines that he must return to Earth.

Doug:  The issues-long reveal of Jason Wyngarde and his evil machinations was quite well-done.  Marvel had several writers in the Bullpen who were adept at the subplot.  Of course, I think Byrne-authored tales often really pushed the patience of the reader as he had an over-abundance of these threads running along together.  But by and large the introduction of the Hellfire Club was quite effective.  I'll say this for Mister Wyngarde -- he was a lot better looking in this guise than he ended up when it all came apart!

Doug: When Jean did the rapid-fire clothes changing, I really felt like I was watching Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman!  And yes, I do seem to recall Storm doing a similar exhibition.  You may also recall Nightcrawler playing with his "image inducer" in the early #100's.  I am really liking the compactness of these scenes.  Claremont and Byrne get a lot done with only a few panels.  The art moves the words, and the words are just enough to get the point across.  As we alluded to at the top, there's some real synergy between the creators.

Karen: Back on Earth, Moira has decided to tell Jean the truth about her powers and rushes off to find her, but as she does, she finds something odd, a gold tooth, on the floor in front of a security cell ominously labeled "Mutant X". When Moira opens the cell, she takes on a panicked expression. And we cut to -Jean, taking a walk outside, wearing a very light outfit in the very cool weather. Jamie Madrox (the Multiple Man) and Alex Summers (Havok) are doing some work, dressed more appropriately for the weather. While Jamie jokes about how Jean's dressed, Alex thinks to himself that Jean is flaunting her abilities, and it worries him. And well it should, as she picks up on his thoughts and then has her own internal debate, part of her annoyed with Alex and declaring she'll do as she pleases, the other part of her wondering if Alex isn't right. Already we can see Wyngarde's plan in motion. Jean enters the lab to see Moira and detecting she's in trouble, switches to her Phoenix form -and immediately enters into one of Wyngarde's illusions, seeing herself as a lady in an 18th century mansion. It only lasts a moment however, before she's snapped out of it when a shadowy figure grabs her. Alex and Jamie hear Jean scream.

Doug:  Alex maybe knows Jean better than anyone else "alive" at this point (understanding that the X-Men are still believed to be dead).  I wondered if she resented the comment in general, or resented it coming from Alex as Scott's brother?  It's hard to say at this point.  But think of Jean in the Silver Age, or any of Marvel's lead female's for that matter... this is some solid and unexpected characterization.  Claremont really wrote this X-team as individual personalities and it was wonderful.  

Karen: At the same time -it being however 2 am - at the Westchester mansion of the X-Men, the Beast arrives, entering the mansion in the dark, wondering who turned off all the alarms he'd connected when he last left the place. In the darkness, he and Nightcrawler tussle, each assuming the other is an intruder, when a flash of lightning illuminates the room. Both men are startled, and Nightcrawler teleports to the Danger Room, where the rest of the team is practicing . At 2 am? Cyclops, you slave driver! Nightcrawler, rattled, tells them all he's seen a ghost -the Beast! They rush out, and then, one of my favorite X-Men moments occurs: pure joy as Hank and Scott realize the other is still alive! Hank lifts Scott into the air and gives him a huge bear hug.Immediately, the news is out: Jean is also alive! After everyone has a chance to exchange greetings, Scott tells the group to get ready to go to Muir Isle.  He picks up the phone to call ahead. We cut back to the island and see Alex, Jamie, and Lorna about to search the lab. They hear the phone and Lorna answers it, despite Alex's admonition not to. Lorna is stunned to hear Scott's voice, but glad. She begins to explain the situation to him but is cut off. We see a shocked Scott tell the rest that he heard Lorna scream -and then the line went dead! So it's off to Muir Isle for our all new, all different team. Let's hope the Blackbird doesn't explode before they get there -you know the kind of luck this crew had with aircraft!

Doug:  I'm a sucker for a good reunion scene, and this one had some serious pay-off.  Byrne's choice of camera angles is outstanding throughout this two page sequence.  Nightcrawler's insistence that he'd seen a ghost was itself a nice bit of characterization, a throwback to his days as a "demon" in his native Germany.  As the Marvel creators generally pictured Europeans as quite old-fashioned and very much from the Universal Monsters-era, I suppose this superstitious aspect of Kurt's personality was appropriate.  Man, there was some real tension built up in the last few pages.  The Muir Isle scene with Lorna on the phone was good.  I enjoyed seeing Havok as a take-charge guy, very much emulating his big brother.  This one left us hanging, didn't it?  I certainly can't recall my emotions from when I was just turning 13, but if I had to guess I was one anxious guy waiting for the next issue!

Karen: This was a period of time in the title where I don't think Claremont/Byrne/Austin could do any wrong. It looked great, it read well, it was just pure fun month after month. We didn't yet have all the crazy dangling plot threads, and each month you could feel the story building, naturally and organically. We were still learning about the characters and everything felt fresh. You can probably tell, I really like it when we come back to doing X-Men reviews!


Edo Bosnar said...

No arguments from me about the awesomeness of this issue. And I'm glad you mentioned Glynnis Wein's coloring. I remember how spellbound I was when I first cracked open this issue and saw that splash page. Currently I only have this issue in an Essentials volume, and if there's ever a case when you really lose a lot with the lack of color, then this is it.

This is such a great issue in so many ways: nothing major really happens, it's all either recaps (which I appreciated back then because I'd never read anything prior to issue #117) or build-up - but it's all still so exciting. You could tell something really big was on its way.

If I have any complaints, it would have to be something that sort of bothered me when I first read this as a preteen, and which really jumped out at me when I reread them a few years ago: how long it took for the X-men and Jean to realize that each had survived the destruction of Magneto's base. I mean, in Japan Scott runs into Misty Knight, who had just seen Jean before arriving in Tokyo, and she doesn't casually mention that fact? Or later, when the X-men finally return home and found that Prof. X was absent - it never occurred to Scott to call up, say, Moira MacTaggert to ask if she knows where he is? This all seems out of character, unusual given how strongly the characterization was otherwise handled in these stories. I know it was a plot-point to hold the reunion off as long as possible, but it was really implausible all things considered...

mr. oyola said...

One of the earliest issues I ever got my hands on and I was hooked!

J.A. Morris said...

I'm with Edo here, the whole "X-men are dead" thing went on too long. When Misty says "say hi to Scott for me", at the airport, there's no reason for Jean not to say, "Oh, I guess you haven't heard. The X-men are dead."

And the whole business about Scott dating Colleen Wing makes it hard (in retrospect, I didn't read the stories when they were brand new)to buy into Scott & Jean as the greatest love story ever, loving each other "more than life itself", etc.

Speaking of Misty & Colleen, their inclusion in X-men stories strikes me as a little self-serving for Claremont. When I read those stories now, it feels like he's saying these characters are important because he wrote them in 'Iron Fist'. Same with Warhawk (Iron Fist villain),Deathbird & Mystique (both Ms. Marvel villains created by Claremont).

No, I don't post this to trash Claremont (I'm generally a fan of his work), but this has always bugged me a little bit. I also think Deathbird is a lousy villain with a dumb name, but that's another discussion altogether.

Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting, J.A.: I didn't mind the appearances of Misty and Colleen, or Power Man a little later; indeed, it led me to start reading Power Man & Iron Fist.

However, I agree that the Scott and Colleen (non-)romance was, well, weird to say the least. The thing that gets me is that apparently Colleen at some point had to have realized that the X-men thought Jean was dead, but chose not to say anything - just so she would could have Scott all to herself?

Matt Celis said...

Deathbird is the kind of name that became the gold standard of the '90s! Ugh!

Doug said...

Since not too many people wanted to discuss this completely awesome issue of the X-Men, how about if I clue you in on an important item in DC's solicitations today:


Written by Bob Haney and Cary Burkett, art by Jim Aparo, John Calnan and Joe Staton, cover by Jim Aparo.

In these stories from The Brave and The Bold #123-145 and 147-151, Batman teams up with The Flash, Aquaman, Mister Miracle, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Phantom Stranger, Supergirl, the Teen Titans--and Jim Aparo himself!

520 pages, $49.99, in stores on Sept. 4.

William Preston said...

I remember appreciating, in this issue, the relaxed style of storytelling. You just wanted to spend time with these people.

Fred W. Hill said...

I seem to recall some discussion about Scott & Colleen and the prolonged subplot of the group factions believing the other was dead. There was also debate about Scott apparent inability to mourn Jean when he thought she was dead.
Overall, though, this was a great issue, building up unease & mystery with what would become the more immediate threat of Proteous as well as the more insidious threat of Jason Wyngarde & the Hellfire Club. I think it was disturbing enough to those of us who were reading the installments as they became available over a year before we learned where things would ultimately wind up (at least for as long as everyone, including Claremont & company were operating under the conviction that Jean Grey and the Phoenix were one and the same.

Garett said...

I liked the review, don't have anything to add.

Looking forward to that second Jim Aparo book. I've been converted to the color version after starting with B+B Showcase B+W version, so I'll have to pick up this Vol 2.

Doug I took a look at Adventures of Superman by Garcia Lopez--didn't pick it up as I have nearly all of them. It looks generally good, but I did notice that some images were lost as they were printed too close to the centre and fall into the gap of the spine. The two page spreads in the Supes VS Wonder Woman story had this, but otherwise that story looks good in it's smaller state. Also one of my favorite art issues, Superman 347, seems printed out of focus, somewhat, which is a shame as it has such sharp art and cool scenes with Supes and Lois.

dbutler16 said...

Funny, I was thinking of Allen Iverson too.

It does seem that most of the All-New, All-Different X-Men are loners, but I think that Colossus, being a stinking commie (sorry, 60’s Marvel flashback there) is a very family oriented and team oriented person. Banshee also seemed to work pretty well in a team, but being an ex-cop, he’d probably have learned some of that.

I like the way seeds for future stories (Magneto, Mutant X, Hellfire Club, Dark Phoenix) get planted here.
I think Storm did some sort of clothing manipulation, too, but I can’t be sure. I wouldn’t trust my memory.

Yes, the reunion scene was great. Gotta love Hank McCoy.

Aren’t a lot of Europeans believers on ghosts? I’m pretty sure that a lot of people in the UK are, anyway, and I get the idea that Eastern Europe, anyway, is relatively superstitious.

The art, it goes without saying is, like totally awesome. Whoops, wrong decade.

Anonymous said...

Doug, just a thought on your comment:

"Since not too many people wanted to discuss this completely awesome issue of the X-Men..."

I know you have the "Be on the Look Out" listing but, in the case of a review of a specific issue, I am thinking that maybe, in this world of short attention spans (speaking for myself), a more immediate "call to action" would illicit more response. In the case of this X-Men issue, I know that I have this in a long box somewhere. But, you guys are so darned efficient and forthcoming with daily doses of excellence that by the time I would find it you've moved on and I'd feel late to the party. Maybe if I knew the review was coming I would have pulled it out and read it in advance. Say Teach, maybe you could have a blurb at the bottom of posts that precede reviews like "Optional Homework/Extra Credit - read issue such-and-such (if you have it) for tomorrow's review."

Anyhoo, just a thought. I will try to follow my own advice and go find #126.

Tom (sometimes still in kindergarten and needs his hand held)

Doug said...

Tom -

That's a point well-taken. So you would be interested in knowing, for example, the next week's calendar of posts, rather than a vague blurb like "the X-Men take on Proteus"?

I can do that. We don't always have our weeks filled out that far in advance, but I can be more detailed on that "coming attractions" space on the sidebar.


Anonymous said...

Right Doug. I'm talking a subtle change - "The X-Men take on Proteus - reviewing Uncanny X-Men #125-128" (or whatever the issue #s). And it need not be far in advance - quite the contrary. I'm talking about a 15 minute reading assignment the night before.

Why do I feel like I have just set myself up to be called on in class?


Doug said...

Tom (and everyone else with an opinion) --

Check out the revised sidebar and let me know if that's what you had in mind. It's no trouble to amend that as we add our reviews to the queue.

Thanks for the suggestion -- anything to make it easier on our readers is a welcome change.


Anonymous said...


For my 2 cents, as with everything you do around here, that's above and beyond what I had in mind. Thanks much. I'm headed to the attic tonight to pull my reading assignments as I believe I have most of those.


Doug said...

Not a problem at all, Tom, and thanks for the kind words. It was a simple fix, and I hope it pays off in terms of people's connections to our review-type posts.

Many thanks for the suggestion.


david_b said...

Actually, Doug, I preferred the upcoming column topics *without* the dates mentioned, so I could be surprised when I wake up at 0600hrs to start my day.

Ah, no worries, to each their own.

Doug said...

Yeah, I'm not sure what most folks favor, David. I fully understand Tom's point about wanting to read the story ahead of time. We had a comment in the suggestion box some months ago that our reviews were too detailed and were basically huge spoilers. Our thought on that was hey -- these books are 25-40 years old already! We ain't spoiling much!

But Karen will tell you, too, that we are always dismayed that the reviews get relatively fewer comments (sometimes a lot fewer!) than the conversational stuff. It's a bit of a pity party, as the reviews do take a tremendous time commitment. Consider it losing out on a "reward for good behavior", I guess...


Anonymous said...

Well I've said too much on this already (but since I started this, why stop now?). So david_b, how about lose the dates but keep the issue #s?

I sensed the frustration in Doug's "not too many people wanted to discuss this completely awesome issue..." comment. And yeah I can imagine those reviews are a lot of work. So it's kind of ironic that when the crux of the blog is comic books, that the posts about actual issues of comics tend to draw the least discussion. I was just thinking that maybe we can find a way to change that.


Karen said...

Tom, I appreciate your efforts to help us get more posts on the comics reviews. And of course I appreciate my partner's efforts too. I'll admit it -I was bummed when I saw how few posts we got on this one. I was really excited and pleased with our review.But it just seems like, in general, the reviews get fewer comments, and I think it has to do with people not having as much of an opinion on the books as they do on a more general subject. Perhaps more than anything, I need to scale back my expectations for the reviews.

david_b said...

No worries, I believe most folks'll like the dates to prep, that's actually a good idea.

("..I'll just promise myself not to look at the side column dates..")

Edo Bosnar said...

Well, *I* pretty much always comment on the reviews...

Bruce said...

Meant to post on this earlier, but real world responsibilities intruded!

Anyway, I have to echo the sentiments that Claremont and Byrne were knocking it out of the park at this point. The characterization was spot-on, the subplots were focused, the interaction between the characters was captivating, the art was dynamic...I could go on and on.

Seriously, though, Uncanny X-Men #125 is the type of comic that made me a comic book fan.

Bruce said...

And I just want to add that I loved your review, Doug & Karen. Your hard work is apparent - and it is appreciated.

In this case, I think the relative lack of comments may be a matter of folks thinking, "Yep; this review sums up how I feel about this comic!"

I know that even if I don't comment on a review, I always read them.

Karen said...

And Edo, I do appreciate it!

One thing that stands out to me is how well the art holds up. It just looks amazing, all these years later. I can't say that about everything we review. Nor can I say that about all of John Byrne's art -some of his other work from the 70s/80s looks very dated to me now. I think a lot of it has to do with Austin -and of course, my own prejudices.

Karen said...

Bruce and I must have been posting at the same time. Thanks very much Bruce!

Garett said...

Your review made me pull out my Essentials of this, and now I'm thinking of going to get the Marvel Masterworks because of the art and colors. I agree, Karen, about Austin's inking.

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