Friday, May 23, 2014

Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire - X-Men 118

X-Men #118 (February 1979)
"The Submergence of Japan!"
Chris Claremont-John Byrne/Ricardo Villamonte

Doug: Fancy meeting everyone here on a Friday rather than a Monday! As we'd remarked late last week, sometimes real life necessitates re-prioritizing  and re-working some things, and our partner reviews for X-Men #s 118-119 falls into that category. 
Thanks for waiting an extra four days for this, the first of a two-part review. On Monday if you come by the BAB you'll find a follow-up to my Man-Bat story, and a week from today we'll be back here with the conclusion to our merry mutants' trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Doug: We open on a ship about 10 kilometers from port on the island of Honshu. The X-Men have been aboard this craft for around six weeks, since they were rescued after their adventure in the Savage Land (which had immediately followed their second tussle with Magneto). A hot red glow is in the sky above the city of Agarashima, and the X-Men intend to investigate. Cyclops gives Nightcrawler the order to teleport over and get a visual. Kurt does, without hesitation. Now I thought this was pretty extreme (bamf!ing over six miles??), but even Kurt remarks to himself that without the X-Men's constant training he never could have attempted that. Shortly, the rest of the team joins him (compliments of Storm and Banshee). Cyke says that they have to locate Sunfire immediately, as they have no passports, no money, and no way of contacting Professor Xavier. So off they go, through a panicked city. But first, we get a quick little vignette as to why they cannot contact Xavier -- he is heading into deep space with his love, the Princess Lilandra. Soon, they will warp far, far away. Once the X-Men are close to Shiro Yoshida's (aka Sunfire) compound the team stops to plan. Wolverine has plucked a stray newspaper and read an account of an earthquake warning. Cyclops asks him how he knows that... what, can he read Japanese? Wolverine says, yeah -- he can, and if Cyclops ever would have asked he'd have known. More layers being peeled back from Logan's background.

Karen: This was back when Wolverine was still a mystery man -and still interesting. I liked the idea that he'd spent time in Japan. I didn't care much for the later stories which turned him into a samurai or ninja. My preferred version of this character has always been the savage just holding on to his humanity. 

Doug: Cyclops orders the team into costume, as it's their only hope of gaining a positive ID with Sunfire. The compound is heavily guarded and it appears that an important meeting is taking place within. Storm creates a dense fog to cloak the approach of she and her teammates. But they aren't very far when a blinding light splits the dense, heavy air. It is Sunfire, and he is not happy. His troops encircle the X-Men, and Sunfire orders them to arrest the trespassers. And then this gets very interesting. Of all people, Misty Knight emerges from the main house and overrides Sunfire's order, telling the guards to stand down. Sunfire reminds her that she is a guest in his country. She reminds him that the premier of the nation would like to meet the X-Men. Inside, Sunfire argues with his superiors that he alone can protect Japan from any further earthquakes. If Misty Knight is along, you know Colleen Wing isn't far behind; indeed, she's right there in the mix, telling Sunfire (in Japanese, no less) what to do. Now I don't know enough about Sunfire, and/or Iron Fist and these supporting characters, so I was surprised that Colleen was speaking fluent Japanese, was the niece of the premier, and said that she was descended from daimyo and samurai, like Sunfire. It all seemed a bit much to me. And then when Colleen took a shine to Cyclops, even though she knew he was "spoken for", I found that to be some clumsy foreshadowing. I did think it intriguing, though, that Cyke again remarked that Jean's "death" left him unfeeling and he was disturbed by his lack of emotion about it.


Karen: Scott's lack of emotion over Jean's death was always disturbing -a self-defense mechanism perhaps? It certainly bothered Storm -she seemed quite curt in her responses to him in this issue. Of course, she'd blown up at him (uncharacteristically) back in the Savage Land when the subject of Jean's death came up.

Doug: We cut to a second two-panel interlude. In the first, a truck driver had remarked to his partner that whatever dirty deed they were planning was going to go down at precisely midnight. In the second of these quick shots, the same guy assures his co-driver that with what they're packing they won't have to worry about Sunfire or any other mutants for that matter. And we see in the shadows of the semi the legs of Mandroids. Cut back to Shiro's compound where Wolverine is strolling around the grounds until he feels at home (coo coo cachoo -- you know what I'm saying!). He exits to a garden, where he startles a young maiden. She is frightened, but he calms her in perfect Japanese. He says he is one of the X-Men, and that he knows Sunfire. She is Sunfire's cousin, named Mariko, and remarks that Wolverine has wonderful Japanese, for an American. He tells that he is actually Canadian, and had wonderful teachers. She asks why his name is Wolverine, and he begins to say that his name is really Logan, when he is cut off by an earthquake. Was this indeed the first time Wolverine's real name was revealed? Well, OK -- almost revealed?

Karen: I think one of the leprechauns in issue #103 was the first to call him "Logan" -actually, I think it was "Mr. Logan" -but this might have been the first time that he himself started to say his own name. I found it interesting both then and now that Byrne elected to draw Mariko in a very stylized way -not your typical female face as found in comics, but a very deliberately Asian look. Now if one overlooks the fact that she's dressed like someone out of Shogun, it's kind of a bold move. 

Doug: Wolverine snatches Mariko from harm's way as a tree begins to fall. He uses his adamantium skeleton's strength to protect her as he races to the clear, away from the crumbling mansion. He soon reunites with his team, who has spirited the government emissaries from harm. Cyke regales Storm, asking why she didn't give a warning about the quake. She says that she only senses natural disasters, and what just happened was not natural! Another attack comes, this one a large blast. And then a trio of Mandroids enters the grounds and says that they are there for the government -- their boss would like an audience. Sunfire steps forward as their protector and is dropped in his tracks by a ray blast and the term "mutie". Cyke tells his team that he recognizes the armor as Mandroid technology that was designed to take out the Avengers. And then he makes a statement dripping with bravado -- "... but there's no way in heaven they could have been prepared to stop us! Hit 'em, X-Men -- with everything you've got!" Yep -- game on, as they say.


Doug: You know, maybe Cyclops was right. Nightcrawler is the first to engage, and his combination of speed, agility, and teleportation neutralizes "Number 3". Colossus is next up, but he gets sent for a ride by a reverse-polarity magnet, leaving Wolverine to carve up that Mandroid. Lastly, Cyke and Banshee work their magic on the third guy, literally rattling his armor off his body. But Number 3 was only staggered, not dropped, and now he takes a bead on Sunfire. Mariko attempts to shield her cousin, but is ordered to run. Sunfire launches a blast of solar energy that heats the Mandroid armor to critical levels. But the suit's "pilot" just laughs, saying he's absorbing the energy. But as he glows, Storm arrives with an onslaught of freezing rain; the stress of going from too hot to too cold wrecks the suit of armor. We cut to the streets outside the compound as they semi drivers are putting this debacle in their rear-view mirror. As they speed along, they attempt to avoid a pothole. Too late, boys -- that was no pothole. It was Colossus's landing spot. Suddenly his organic steel arms reach up through the hole and destroy the semi-truck. The next time we see Peter he's strolling back onto the mansion grounds with a driver under each arm.
Karen: Wow, the X-Men actually win a fight, and quite handily! Poor Colossus though -he was going through a real slump at this time. Taken down by Mandroids? Ouch. And how about the Mandroids. Last seen in Avengers #95, during the Kree-Skrull War. Claremont (or Byrne) knew their stuff. A seven year gap in appearances -and they didn't do any better this time around. If course, we just recently reviewed that Wolverine solo story where the Mandroids were used as baddies again. Something about them stuck with Claremont. Not sure why...

Doug: As the team licks their minor wounds and feels great about their easy victory, a hologram suddenly appears from one of the Mandroid suits. A man in a white suit with a Lex Luthor collar addresses the prime minister of Japan and tells him that he has an ultimatum: within 24 hours, the man must be proclaimed sole ruler of the island nation of Japan. The man's name? Moses Magnum. And if he doesn't get his way, he will sink Japan. Pure and simple.

Karen: "Master of the Magnum Force" -sorry, but I can help but see Dirty Harry in my head when I read that.

Doug: I liked this story -- it was suspenseful and was a nice way to get back into regular continuity after the Professor X one-off that was in issue #117. It's funny now, after all of the wranglings with Wolverine's origin, to see these early attempts at expanding on his backstory. When you think of it now, the character was only around 4 1/2 years old when this issue was on the newsstand. Makes me want a time machine to visit simpler times! And what's everyone's opinion on the art? John Byrne is typical John Byrne from this era -- pretty darned awesome. Ric Villamonte's inks certainly weren't doing any damage, but you could just feel that the pictures were a little less slick without Terry Austin's TLC. But overall this was the beginning of what we know will be a 42-page "story", with just enough mystery and sub-plotting to keep us on that Claremont/Byrne/Austin rollercoaster, begging for more!


Anonymous said...

Great review as ever. My first X-Men was #120 "Chaos In Canada" and I've discovered in recent years that at that time Marvel UK were blocking imports of U.S. X-Men comics so they didn't compete with the UK re-prints but obviously some got through and by 1980 they must have given up trying as I bought the whole Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix run.

Doug said...

Thanks, Colin!

And that's an interesting story, about your own distribution troubles in the UK. We often complain about a lack of access to books here in the States. Your twist on it adds another layer.


Edo Bosnar said...

I really enjoyed the review, and I recall really enjoying this issue, and reading it over and over, even though I never had the following issue (back then).
Here's another twist on the distribution aspect of comics (and I think I mentioned this before in the comments to your review of X-men #120): I found this issue, all alone, tucked in a spinner rack in the same month that X-men #121 came out. An inattentive store clerk's little mistake was my good luck.

By this time I was completely hooked on X-men, and this just added to my enthusiasm for the series. A suspenseful and gripping story, intriguing characterization (i.e., Wolverine's slowly unfolding back story) and a great cliff-hanger ending that has you clamoring for more.
Only thing I didn't like - and I think this has also come up before - was the whole sub-plot with Misty and Colleen. They knew Jean was alive, but at no point did it come up in conversation while they're hanging around with the X-men?

Humanbelly said...

I had totally forgotten that Misty & Colleen had popped up in this book, as well. Boy, Claremont & Byrne just couldn't ever bring themselves to let go of their beloved cast from IRON FIST, could they? IIRC, they were also featured/used for a few issues during the Claremont/Byrne run of Marvel Team-Up.

I mean, the characters are. . . okay, I suppose. But I never felt like they were a perfect fit in the X-Men's realm. They didn't exactly create a major connection with greater MU, because they came from a relatively obscure corner themselves.

All that aside. . . I LOVED this stretch of the book, no reservations or qualifiers. Every issue ended too quickly, killing you with the mandatory 30-day wait-!


Murray said...

HB - "Knightwing Investigations" appeared in "Marvel Team-Up" because "Iron Fist" had been cancelled and there was a major plot thread that had to be tied up. So they went to MTU.

Being a huge Iron Fist fan, I loved seeing the ladies in my equally beloved X-Men. When Fist and Co. joined Luke Cage, my head nearly exploded. It makes me rather melancholy to recall that within a couple of years, I had dropped X-Men entirely and the story quality in Power Man-Iron Fist was so spotty, I could only tolerate a few cherry-picked issues.

In the feature issue, there was one scene that made my young eyes pop. When super strong characters hit other muscle guys or, slug robots, I understand in an abstract way "They are strong." BUT when Colossus ripped the undercarriage of truck away with his fingertips...real world click...that guy is STRONG!

david_b said...

Not into the story much as a non-fan, but whaaat an awesome cover.

Love the colors, just HATE the advent of those UPC symbols.

J.A. Morris said...

Good review,as usual. I've never seen the Mandroids as anything more than a C-list adversary. I guess Claremont/Byrne needed someone to fill pages and the Mandroids were "available."

The whole "X-men are dead" subplot was the dumbest thing about the Claremont/Byrne/Austin years. Misty never thought to call Scott out for cheating,since she knew Jean was alive? Stupid.

Speaking of them, where's the Knightwing movie? What is Marvel/Disney waiting for? Woman with a bionic arm with martial artist for a partner? Seems like a no-brainer for a movie.

Dr. Oyola said...

This seems like a fantastic issue! I may have to see if I can find it.

I am a little confused about chronology at this point, however - so this is during the period where Jean thinks the X-Men are dead and they think she is dead, but she (and maybe others?) are in England or something? I forget the details. But as this is definitely before the Dark Phoenix saga - we are not talking about THAT death.

Who is the X-nerd here who can explain it to me? Thks! :)

P.S. Speaking of X-Men - for those who didn't see it, I posted Part one of my (and a friend's) take on Days of Future Past on my blog, here.

Murray said...

Dr. O. - Perhaps I'm overstating my credentials to claim "X-Nerd" status, but I do know this period.

The X-Men (as shown in this review issue) alongside Jean-Phoenix and Hank-Beast were captured by Magneto. They escaped, but the battle triggered the geothermal power Magneto used for his secret base. Hank and Jean dove one direction. The X-Men dove the other.

Hank and Jean ended up wandering the snows of Antarctica, rescued in the knick of time by a Navy chopper. The X-Men burrowed a tunnel into the Savage Land.

And, both parties believe their friends died in the eruption. Between the Savage Land and the Japanese freighter voyage, the X-Men were incommunicado for about two months. Jean and Hank went back and told the bad news to Prof. X.

Charles and Lilandra went off to the Shiar Empire. Hank resumed life with the Avengers. Jean, we're told in flashbacks, did some world traveling to settle her spirit. Here, there and everywhere (shadowed and manipulated by Mastermind the whole while) until she stopped at Muir Island in Scotland to hang with Dr. McTaggart, Alex-Havok and Lorna-Polaris.

Doug said...

Murray, I feel like we should confer some special status upon you!


Edo Bosnar said...

Great rundown, Murray. And I agree with you about Misty and Colleen appearing in X-men: I loved it. I started reading Power Man & Iron Fist because I was so intrigued by the characters (and the X-men also made a guest appearance in that title at about this time).

Anonymous said...

As I read youse guys' review and I remember back to when all these stories were new, I can't help but feel the gentle pang of nostalgia for the halcyon days of yore. That same feeling we get nowadays when Marvel Studios throws out little asides to different parts of the Marvel Universe. The inclusion of Nightwing Investigations, Sunfire, Mandroids, all bits of the Marvel Universe thrown together to further the story along.

A few things I wondered about, in a different story, Kurt talks about teleporting "blind", the danger of materializing inside something solid. Could he see where he was going over the distance he "bamfed"? Banshee was carrying both Scott and Logan, wouldn't Logan be really heavy?

Doug, I think the status you're looking for is "Offical Explainer". Originally created by President Obama during the last election, I do believe former President Clinton was the first to hold the title.

And Murray, to quote Ogre: "Nerds, nerds, NERDS!!!"

Another job done well guys!!!

The Prowler (clap your hands everybody, everybody clap your hands).

Dr. Oyola said...

Thanks Murray! X-continuity gets really confusing (how many times has Professor X been "dead") and this was even before all the alternate future stuff which really muddies the waters.

Great job clearing that up!

Anonymous said...

Wow Murray - you have just been designated the unofficial chronology explainer of the BAB! Congrats!

This issue brings back a lot of good memories for me. I read it many years ago, and it highlights all that was good about the X-men during this period - the great script by Claremont, slowly building up a layered story and of course excellent artwork by Byrne. Villamonte's inks don't have the detailed polish of Terry Austin, but the art is still good here.

Prowler, yeah, I've always wondered about Storm or Banshee carrying Wolverine. If he's got an adamantium skeleton (the densest metal in the MU)he probably weighs much more than a normal person his size would weigh. Whenever Storm carries him it could be explained by her using winds to aid her, but Banshee? Maybe his sonic scream creates vibrations in the air to make wind too!

- Mike 'sonic boom' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Murray said...

Jeez. I'm turning bright red here. Make a comment, step away for the day, and return to find all sorts of mad carryings on!

I stopped by "Mike's Amazing World of Comics". Looking at what else was printed at the same time as this X-Men issue staggers me. I sure wouldn't be able to do no 'Splainin' for 90% of the material there.

Cheers, chaps.

Dr. Oyola said...

The latest episode of Rachel & Mile X-Plain the X-Men, "Not All Mandroids" covers this issue and more.

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