Monday, April 22, 2013

Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled: X-Men 127

X-Men #127 (November 1979)
"The Quality of Hatred!
Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin

Today is review #400 on the Bronze Age Babies!

Karen: Our cover this month is a more colorful version of our splash page - I like the psychedelic
little purple swirls! The story picks up immediately from the end of X-Men #126, as Proteus has attacked a grounded Storm, who responds by whipping up a tremendous gale. But even that seems ineffective against the dangerous mutant, so Storm makes an effort to take to the air, only to be knocked down by a wave of earth. Proteus' absolute control over reality makes escape impossible. Nightcrawler urges Wolverine to help him save Storm, but shockingly, the typically feisty brawler is frozen with fear. Suddenly gunshots ring out from the ridge above -it is Moira MacTaggert. Even though Proteus is her son, Moira takes aim and we can see through her scope she is deadly serious about killing him. At the last moment her aim is spoiled by Cyclops, who says the X-Men will capture Proteus. But Moira is having none of it -she hits Cyclops in the gut with the butt of her rifle, and he strikes his head on a rock as he falls, knocking him out. She goes back to fire on Proteus again, but he has taken off in his car, since bullets (or anything metal) can actually kill him. However, Moira thinks she knows where he's headed, and jumps in her car too.

Doug:  We've been gushing over the art throughout the previous three X-issues we've reviewed this month -- today's fare is no different.  I guess by this point in the story I had begun to question just what exactly Proteus was -- he needed the host to be mobile.  Storm called him a being of energy, so am I to read into that his sentience but with a lack of physicality (if that's the right word)?  His powers seem somewhat undefined, though incredible, at this juncture as well.  Are his powers mainly mental?  Is all that we see an illusion?  Was he really able to withstand Storm's hurricane-force winds, or was that an image conjured only in the minds of the X-Men?  I also found it to be an interesting clue that he could only warp reality if he could make eye contact with his intended victim; hence, the travails that Proteus dealt Nightcrawler and Wolverine in the previous issue would not have been felt by Storm as she arrived late to the fray.

Karen: The X-Men regroup and recover. Cyclops assesses the situation and is concerned about Wolverine,  who seems to be extremely rattled by his encounter with Proteus. The art team does a nice job depicting this, with our normally swaggering runt sitting with his knees drawn up, head resting on one palm, hands shaking. Cyclops is afraid that Wolverine is about to snap, mentally, and decides to do something about it -and this leads into one of the best sequences in the entire Proteus storyline. Cyke accuses Wolvie of being a coward and tosses his drink in his face. That's enough to get Wolverine fired up and ready to rumble. This is pretty dangerous for Cyke, as Wolverine pops his claws and goes after him. But again, this was back in the days before Wolverine became godlike, so Cyke actually manages to toss Wolverine with a judo throw and hold his own. Banshee, not understanding what Cyke is trying to do, orders Colossus to intervene, but Phoenix tells him to stay back and let Cyclops handle things. Now, this would have been perfect if it had been Jean understanding what Scott was doing, just because she is so close to him and knows him so well, but Claremont had to go and ruin it by having Cyclops explain it to the readers in his thoughts, stating that he had "mentally cued Jean in" to what he was going to do before he started. I just don't see why he felt the need to handle it that way.

Doug:  A jumping on point for new readers?  Don't know, but I agree with you.  For the long-time reader it seemed unnecessary.  Not having read this story for many a'moon, I was expecting another Jason Wyngarde interlude at this point, and was surprised to not see one -- in fact, that subplot was back-burnered for this entire issue.  I think part of that was the pace of this installment, which probably takes place within the space of one day, day-and-a-half at the most.  The details in the art are nice -- lots of backgrounds, etc.  This creative team did not shortcut the consumer.  There have been two really nice shots of the entire team so far -- you mentioned one last issue with the tension between Scott and Jean.  The shot right before Cyclops provokes Wolverine is good.  I like the high camera angle, which plays off of the preceding panel of Phoenix in flight.  

Karen: As Cyclops and Wolverine go at each other, Cyke verbally jabs at Wolvie, saying he's fighting so poorly, a cub scout could beat him. He's purposely trying to get under his skin, and it's working. He tosses Wolverine at Nightcrawler, who bamfs into attack position right over Cyclops -a stunt that leaves him wide open to Cyke's optic beam, something he's warned Nightcrawler about before. Storm decides she's had enough of this, and brings down a bolt of lightning near Cyclops. He knocks her off her feet with a blast, but decides it might be time to put an end to things, and calls for a truce. Wolverine is not about to have it, until Cyke explains to them this was an impromptu Danger Room session. He had to see how they all were managing after facing off with Proteus. They all get it, and Wolverine especially seems to have a new-found respect for Scott, putting himself in jeopardy to try to shake Logan out of his shock. I recall feeling at the time that this was a real turning point for their relationship, the point at which Wolverine stopped questioning Cyclops' every order and really started to be more of a team player. And of course, back then, Cyclops was a top notch leader.

Doug:  The entire fight is really well-choreographed, and the rapidly changing camera angles give a real sense of danger and emotion to it.  The coloring on Storm as she attempts to end the fracas was well done, complete with a little Kirby Krackle!  I think Scott's intent is to not only assess the team's well-being, but in a way see just how powerful Proteus is.  Let's face it -- if Wolverine could be that far removed from his "usual self", then this baddie must be some tough customer!  We've discussed the evolution of Wolverine as a character at length, and as his story unfolded over the years, with the immersion in Japanese culture, etc., this "early" version of his characterization couldn't be further from what he (again, given what we would later learn) should have been like.  I must say I lean toward the character when we didn't know all of the details (retcons).

Karen: Proteus has moved on, heading for Edinburgh. He accosts a young woman who has a flat tire, possessing her. Moira has reached the city before him, and has arrived at the home of Joseph MacTaggert -her estranged husband.I thought the way MacTaggert was drawn, he had a sort of brutal sensuality. Actually, he reminds me a bit of the way the Black King, Sebastian Shaw, would look a few issues later. It seems that MacTaggert, who is a member of Parliament and has even greater political aspirations, refuses to give Moira a divorce, and so they've lived apart for twenty years. She left him after he apparently beat her so badly she wound up in the hospital. He had no idea that they'd had a son, Mutant X. He's shocked when Moira tells him this -and that his son is coming to kill him. He goes to grab her but Moira pulls a very large revolver and walks out the door. As she sits in her car, sobbing, Proteus watches from nearby, angry that "the one I hate" has upset Moira, again. It seems as though Moira's hatred of MacTaggert has transferred to her son over the years, and Proteus has indeed come to kill his father. We see him entering MacTaggert's home and surprising him...

Doug:  So is the root and motivation of this "villain" some sort of Oedipus complex?  Or is there something more?  The mystery deepens.  I want to also say that I don't know much of the geography of Scotland, or the larger UK for that matter, but Claremont sells me on this.  For this young reader, it was a real fantasy land, the change in locale for this story.  When you think about it, the X-Men haven't been home since the night the Sentinels attacked them, back in the late #90's.  After the introduction of Phoenix, they went to Scotland, then a few issues later to the Shi'ar Galaxy, then they fought Vindicator in upstate New York, then ended up in Antarctica, the Savage Land, Japan, Canada, and eventually here -- back in Scotland.  What globetrotters these mutants were near the end of the Bronze Age!

Karen: Meanwhile the X-Men have been able to track Moira to Edinburgh and Phoenix is locking on
to her thoughts when she is assaulted by the "psychic death scream" of MacTaggert. Phoenix telekinetically carries Cyclops and four other X-Men to the scene, causing Cyclops to wonder about her power levels. Storm flies herself, while Polaris brings Havok. Before they arrive, Moira is confronted by Proteus -but he's different. Possessing his father, he has absorbed some of his personality. Now he is an unsettling combination of father and son, and he proclaims that he "wants" Moira! Colossus is the first X-Man to make the scene, landing like a cannonball in the street. But when he goes to attack Proteus, he finds gravity twisted sideways and is hurled away from the villain. Cyclops' eye beams are no more effective, turned into flower petals before they can strike his foe. Ever the tactician, Cyke thinks their only hope is to try to wear Proteus out, make him burn out his host body before he can find another.  Phoenix readies to attack, saying he hasn't really faced her before, but Proteus grabs Moira and uses her as a shield. Moira yells for the team to attack anyway, that her life is nothing compared to stopping Proteus, but of course his action freezes the X-Men in their tracks. The mutants ask what they should do, and Cyclops says that Proteus is exactly the kind of mutant Professor X created the X-Men to protect humanity from. So -next issue, the battle begins!

Doug:  I really liked that the "entire" team was together again in this story, and it's a pity that they didn't wait for the Beast.  Proteus seemed the sort of adversary that would have made Angel's comment, "What are we going to do with 13 X-Men?" an easily answered query.  In regard to Colossus, those landings never became cliche' for me -- loved it every time!  We get another small taste of what Jean has become as she says to Proteus, "Say your prayers, butcher!"  Not exactly the Greys' little girl.  I felt so bad for Banshee, as Proteus rant is the first time he knew that Moira was married.  That's interesting in a way, because when we reviewed X-Men #117, Xavier had commented to Lilandra that although he had loved Moira, she wouldn't wait for him.  Was this an allusion to Moira getting married?  It seems strange, then, that when Moira came to "keep house" for the X-Men and Banshee took a shine to her that Charles would never have mentioned anything to poor Sean Cassidy.  Cyke shows his true colors as a leader on par with Cap and Reed Richards, doesn't he?

Karen: This was another winner, with the fight between Cyke and Wolverine being the real highlight
for me, because it changed the way these two dealt with each other here-on after in the book.Cyclops finally got the respect he needed from Wolverine to function effectively -- he became the alpha dog, essentially, in Logan's eyes - and after that, it really seemed like they were a team. We saw a little of this around the time of the Alpha Flight clash, but here's where it all came together. The only thing missing this issue was another Jason Wyngarde/Dark Phoenix slip, but there was so much else going on, it wasn't missed and probably would have been a mistake to try to force it in. All in all, a great set up for next issue's big finale.


Edo Bosnar said...

On par with Cap and Reed? Try a cut above - it was precisely when I was reading these issues of X-men the first time that I came to the conclusion that Cyclops is the quintessential super-hero team leader. And that little speech he made in the last panel sent shivers down my spine as a kid, and still kind of makes me say "F- yeah!"

By the way, concerning Proteus, I think his powers were actually that he could warp reality, not just create illusions; in other words, he was THAT powerful. His only problem was he couldn't stay in one body for long because he wore them out for whatever reason.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I agree with Edo regarding Cylcops' leadership, but after the Dark Phoenix Saga, he then stepped down from the leadership and never really retained it, with Storm filling in the void -- and remaining there even during the period when she lost her powers.

That doesn't undermine the story here, I think. If anything, it is a good example of how Claremont was willing to keep on mixing things up in X-Men.

Doc Savage said...

in that last panel, colossus is so far away from the others, he could not have heard what the others were saying. they should have used it in the next issue as a chance to recap for new readers.

colossus: "hey, what were you guys talking about?"
cyclops: "(recounts prior issue)"

Bruce said...

Loving these Claremont/Byrne X-Men reviews! The splash page on this one has always been a personal favorite. It just seems so creepy.

Love Scott's leadership and the Cyclops-Wolverine interaction. The characters were so strong and well-developed during this era and that, to me, is what makes this such a magical run. As a reader, you really get invested in the X-Men and find yourself pulling for them.

Anonymous said...

Doug, it’s interesting that you mention the colouring on Storm. What I got was more in the art...the boys are being boys and roughhousing and Mummy steps in to break it up....the art on Storm’s physique really emphasises her hips and figure. She really looks like a WOMAN there, and I thought intentionally.

I also agree about Proteus’s powers being ill-defined. I’m jumping the gun here, but one thing I really remember with this story was that Proteus says repeatedly that he is messed up by INORGANIC material, which is why metal, amongst other things, messes him up. We’re therefore waiting for inevitable dénouement where Colossus wipes him out, but, aha, I thought, we’ve been told many times that Peter’s steel effect is in fact ORGANIC steel, so... it won’t work! I was patiently waiting for this neat twist, which cued up nicely, and then Peter’s steel just DID inexplicably cause Proteus to disencorporeate. I felt extremely cheated.


Doug said...


Not even a "spoiler warning" on that last comment.

Karen and I will be rescheduling next week's conclusion to this series, as it is now a moot point.

You can decide for yourselves if I'm serious or not.


Anonymous said...

LOL. Remind me never to hand my homework in early in your class, Doug.

Out of interest, how would that spoiler begin? " Just in case you missed it in the last 34 years..."

Doug said...

That's exactly how it would begin.

Funny thing about your "34 years" comment: Karen and I polished off the conclusion over the weekend, and I had not, sir, read it since it was released when I was but a waif. Do I did have a sense of discovery!

Ancillary topic, if anyone's game, concerning Cyke's leadership. Who in comics had innate leadership qualities, and who was deferred to most often simply because of who they were?


Doug said...

I wrote: Do I did have a sense of discovery!

Should have said: So I did have a sense of discovery!


mr. oyola said...

I don't know, whenever I think of Cyclops as a leader I think of this interview - - which I find HI-larious. Then again, never was much if a Cyclops fan. . .though I will admit if there was a time he was best at being a leader it would have been this era, but it hardly makes up for his usual lameness.

Karen said...

What happened to Cyclops later on is why I pretty much try to ignore everything after about issue 150 or so.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug - Fair comments all. I don’t know about you, but bafflingly, I find my memory of stuff I read once 34 years ago recalls with greater clarity and certainty than what happened yesterday. Literally. I remember the end of that Proteus story without even trying, but I have to do a forensic reconstruction to figure out what I had for lunch yesterday.

Innate leaders: Cap & Reed are the obvious. Did Cap actually lead the Invaders as well as the Avengers, can’t remember? I remember Englehart wrote a period where Iron Man was leader and everything was going wrong for him. That was the first time I really thought about the Avengers leader as being a meaningful role since the kooky quartet. I think Stark would be deferred to entirely because of who he is, not for his leadership qualities.

Jan was very successful, but probably not a natural leader. Natasha’s stint as leader of the Champs was maybe more interesting, given that the Avengers had a long history of leadership and the Champs were basically a punch up looking for someone to punch.

Doc Strange was more the de facto leader of the Defenders than a natural or elected choice, so he fits into your 2nd category. Dumb Magician.

Storm ultimately did pretty well after Cyke left, but I seem to remember she had some extreme times to cope with.

I guess Nick Fury is the poster boy. He was an entirely natural commander of the Howlers, but in SHIELD he was a natural leader leading an organisation that was entirely at odds with his character, so he was deferred to because of who he was, not his appropriateness to lead.


Anonymous said...

Great review guys! Richard, as to your spoiler, no worries here. Hmmm...what DID I have for lunch yesterday?


david_b said...

On the subject of 'natural leaders', DC's Robin was always a paradox..

He could lead the Titans alright, but by the time the first year of NTT was out and making waves, he was still featured in Batman's title essentially portrayed as a schmuck.

I don't know, was there ever any rotating leaders that stood out in the JLA, besides Supes and Batman..?

WardHill Terry said...

Yeah, this is the stuff. That's my Cyclops. That's my X-Men team. Even the little stuff; Sean's hotplate, McTaggart's cable-knit sweater, the non-glamourous look of the girl Proteus inhabits; evrything was clicking along perfectly.

As to leaders, here's another vote for Dick Grayson. Didn't Claremont pick up on this in the X-Men/TT crossover? (Didn't like it much, so I haven't re-read it since it was published.) Other natural leaders at DC; Uncle Sam, Earth-2 Hawkman, and Dream Girl.

Dose anyone know of a timeline of these X-Men stories? Once they escape Magneto, how long does they "lost" team travel? How long are they back in Westchester? (Fighting Arcade, Arkon) It would be a good puzzle!

Anonymous said...

"You think I'm all fun and games?" - Nightcrawler, issue #109

Yes I believe this issue firmly established Cyclops as the quintessential leader of the X-men (old, new and any subsequent iteration of the team).

It was also a real blast to see the normally pugnacious Wolverine shaking like a leaf here! It's quite a contrast to the fearless killing machine we've seen in what I call his 'modern' incarnation. Personally, I liked this version - Claremont really tries to humanize him, giving the reader a reminder that he's not all adamantium claws and ferocious attitude.

Well, Richard, you let the cat out of the bag for anyone who hasn't read the Proteus storyline! Still, half the fun is the journey even if you know the destination, right? Everyone knew what happens in the Lord of the Rings but everybody still went to see the films.

- Mike 'hey can Proteus please change the realities of the West Indies cricket team' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

Growing up in the 1970's I consider the Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin team the ultimate team on the X-Men. I think George Perez would be the only artist to replace John Byrne at the time. Of course they would have to get the Terry Austin inks to make it complete. To me that was a majical time for the X-Men. It seemed like anything could happen and there were so many directions it could have gone. I only wish it could have lasted longer than it did. Just as Byrne was to go on and do a run on the Fantastic Four and an all too brief run on the Incredible Hulk, it was a time that I'll never forget. If Bryne didn't want to do the artwork anymore, Perez should have taken over. However at that time, Jim Shooter drove a lot of the great talent out and they all went to DC Comics to do bigger and better things.

Edo Bosnar said...

FF Fan 4ever, we all got a taste of how magical an extended Claremont/Perez/Austin run would have looked like in X-men Annual #3 - by far my favorite X-men Annual, and quite frankly, my favorite annual in general. I would actually go so far as to say that it's my favorite single issue of X-men during this period, even though it's not drawn by Byrne.

William said...

Awesome stuff!! Thanks for the review. I am currently in the process of rereading the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men stuff starting with issue #109 and going all the way through to the bitter end (when Byrne left the book). After which the series was never as good.

Even though I've always been more of a Spider-Man fan, I would have to argue that the Byrne/Claremont era of the X-Men is the greatest comic book series of all time. It was just so freaking epic. To me it is still the gold and diamond standard of how to do a superhero team book.

Byrne and Claremont were definitely the Lennon and McCartney of comic book creators. Together they produced some of the best comics ever published, including their runs X-Men, Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up. They both created some very good comics without each other (especially Byrne), but together they were magic.

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