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!