Monday, February 13, 2012
Canadian Club: X-Men 120
X-Men #120 (April 1979)
"Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!"
Chris Claremont/John Byrne-Byrne/Terry Austin
Karen: What could be better than a comic with a super team? How about a comic with two super teams?! Yup, that's what we've got here, two teams -that's 12 super-heroes in all. It's a game of six on six, with the X-Men squaring off against Alpha Flight in their first appearance.
Karen: On a huge monitor inside some sort of military complex, we see the battle between James Hudson and the X-Men from issue 109. Hudson is there, along with then-Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. The PM tells Hudson that he wants Wolverine -Weapon X -back in the fold, by any means necessary. Hudson slides some data-punch cards into a computer (this opening sequence is showing its age!) and we get five one-panel shots of each Alpha Flight member in their civilian IDs. Was it just me, or did Trudeau look cartoony?
Doug: Funny you should mention that, as I was thinking the same thing. I checked the time between issues 109 and 120 -- one might think it would be 11 months, but in reality it was 14 months. It's still hard to fathom that the X-Men were published bi-monthly for quite some time after the revival! But my point is that Byrne's art has really evolved from last Monday's review of the introduction of Weapon Alpha. I think we see his stamp on facial expressions really emerge -- he was always a master of lips and chins; one could almost hear the sounds being uttered from the character speaking. Additionally, a hallmark of his later years on the X-Men and especially on the Fantastic Four were the lanky, angular figures -- particularly seen when walking. That begins to emerge here.
Karen: Meanwhile, half-a-world away, our merry mutants are leaving Japan, saying their good-byes to the always charming Sunfire. In addition, Wolverine says a quiet -and surprisingly sweet -farewell to Mariko, Sunfire's cousin. Byrne and Austin give her a very traditional look, and I have to say, I think this might have been a little over the top. The team boards a private plane provided by lawyer Jeryn Hogarth, who is connected to Misty Knight and Colleen Wing (remember the Daughters of the Dragon from our Marvel Team-Up review?). Everyone has crashed out on the plane, including Cyclops and Colleen , who appear to be quite close. Jean's been presumed dead for what, a few weeks comic-time? Hmmmph. But suddenly, a freak blizzard appears. Storm tries to redirect it but discovers that someone else is controlling it! To avoid tearing the aircraft apart, they let the blizzard guide them where it wants: that turns out to be Calgary.
Doug: In regard to Mariko, I wondered if Sunfire had a noble background that might explain her traditional dress. But, upon refreshing my memory, it turns out that Sunfire's mother was a "normal" civilian made ill by the atomic bombs dropped by the United States and his father was a government diplomat. However, Mariko's brother was the Silver Samurai, and a samurai is a title of military nobility. So whatever... The panel where Wolverine hands Mariko a chrysanthemum dovetails nicely with the scene we discussed last week, about hunting. Those sorts of insights are great examples of character development.
Karen: I was thinking more about how Byrne designed her facially. There's no missing the fact that she's Japanese, but it's like he used a model from an 18th century woodcut or something. Extremely round face, tiny mouth and eyes...I don't know, it just struck me as odd.
Doug: Hey, the X-Men do have a tough time with planes, don't they? Jeez, what's the aerial body count by issue 120? And yes, I thought Scott was a little too snuggly with Colleen for my liking. Of course at this time we all assumed that the Phoenix was really Jean; some of us still do. The manipulative blizzard was a cool plot device, and somewhat scary when Storm couldn't alter or control it.
Karen: The plane lands and is directed to a runway far from the terminal. From the cockpit, the X-Men can see the figure of 'Major Maple Leaf' -aka James McDonald Hudson. He says if Wolverine surrenders, no one will be hurt. Wolvie is about ready to carve himself up some Canadian bacon but Cyclops stops him. Cyke orders the pilots to take off, but a huge, mysterious figure underneath the plane not only overcomes the plane's jets, but tosses the vehicle away like a toy! Now considering we're told the plane weighs 250 tons, this is a very impressive feat, along the lines something the Hulk would pull. Since everyone already knows, I'm going to tell you that the powerful mystery man is Sasquatch. He sure seems a lot stronger here than he would ever be again! Heck, if you go by the old Marvel Universe handbooks, Hulk and Thor were only rated as being able to lift 100 tons (Hulk a little more when he was completely nuts). Of course, the handbook didn't come out 'til 1983, so how was Claremont to know where the ceiling was on super-strength?
Doug: I just wasn't buying Sasquatch's strength. Even when I read the story the very first time, I thought "no way". That is definitely Hulk-level strength; I'm not certain I could envision Thor pulling that off. And that the plane didn't come apart on the force of the throw? Ah, it's a comic book.
Karen: Sasquatch's throw is so forceful that the plane literally goes flying backwards on the tarmac and collides with a derelict hangar, the impact demolishing both. Hudson quickly flies over to look for survivors, but finds nothing, not even a body, in the wreckage. The weather suddenly becomes brutal and visibility drops to zero. It's Storm's work. She and the X-Men escaped, and are making their way towards the terminal. Scott tells Wolverine he wants some answers, but decides to have the team split up and regroup at the Calgary Tower in the center of town.
Doug: Interesting that Storm couldn't interrupt the earlier blizzard, but now Hudson's guys can't do anything with this new development. Claremont does a great job of giving us the whole story of Wolverine's relationship to James Hudson in one page. Ya hear that?? One page. Today, two issues. Easily.
Karen: Poor Nightcrawler. Not only is he the first to be captured by the Canadian team, he's taken out with one punch. Although we see only their feet, it is Aurora and Northstar who bring him down. Aurora feels badly for harming a fellow mutant. I always wondered why Byrne (and I believe it was Byrne who developed Alpha Flight) would make two of the members mutant twins, the male of the pair being a super-fast jerk. Sound familiar?
Doug: I thought the most interesting panel in the book, and maybe even since Nightcrawler's introduction back in Giant-Size X-Men #1, was the knock-out punch delivered in the blinding light. For the first time we see Kurt's face with no shadows on it. It just struck me that this was new territory for him. He's not a bad looking guy in the light, but the shadows certainly do give him that demonic ominous-ness. New word, by the way. Speaking of Northstar and Aurora, they do hold hands when they fly... sounds like "Ultimate Alpha Flight".
Karen: Cyclops, Colossus, and Misty (and the two pilots?) have made it to the tower, but there's no sign of the rest. But in a near-by clothing store, Banshee waits as Storm tries on some outfits. It seems ridiculous, but is explained by having Colleen think it a good idea to try to disguise the stand-out-in-a-crowd Ororo. However, Hudson has a way of tracking the mutants, and blasts his way into the shop. It's worth noting that he realizes a moment later that his unnecessarily dramatic entrance has frightened the by-standers, who are not used to seeing super-heroes. Banshee tries to use his scream but is still in bad shape from pushing himself past his limits in Japan. The strain is too much for him, and he keels over. This enrages Storm, and an enraged Storm is a scary thing indeed. She essentially creates a hurricane in the shop and Hudson is shocked by her power. He makes a strategic retreat. Interesting to note here is that as Storm grows more furious, even her word balloons change to take on a sinister appearance, much as they would with Phoenix in later issues. As Hudson flies off, Cyclops and Colossus see his energy trail and lightning from the building.
Doug: Banshee's a hero, isn't he? Ororo is so exotic -- I don't know if it's her stature, her white hair, or the way her eyes are drawn like Little Orphan Annie (uh, not that I mean Little Orphan Annie is exotic), but there's just something about her -- even in the heavy Canadian haute coutere, she's alluring. Hudson's entrance is just stupid, and he's self-deprecating in his thought balloons. Marvel's feet-of-clay heroes, even north of the border. A nice touch. Back then, Claremont "got it". Great comparison of Storm to Dark Phoenix -- not only do the word balloons change, but her speech patterns become overtly aggressive.
Karen: That leaves one member of our troop unaccounted for: Wolverine. As he walks through a seedy section of town, lost in his thoughts (and surprisingly off-guard), Sasquatch reaches out from an alley and grabs the runt, smashing him against one side of the alley and the other, which knocks Wolvie out. Ah yes, these were the days before Wolverine became invincible. Storm and Banshee have rejoined Cyclops and Colossus (the non-mutants have gone off to procure legal aid!) and a determined Cyke tells his team that, "The X-Men didn't start this fight, people--but we're sure as Hell gonna finish it. If necessary, over Alpha Flight's dead bodies!" Hoo boy! Next issue is gonna be a knock-down, drag-out battle royale!
Doug: OK, question on the sneak attack. Why didn't Wolverine smell Sasquatch? Were Logan's mutant powers still pretty undefined at this point? Correct me if I'm wrong, but his main power is his healing factor. He is, however, a tracker of supernatural skill. So why didn't he smell the attack coming? Cyke's big and bad at the end, isn't he? You know, we've run some Open Forums on leaders -- Cap, Reed Richards, Cyke... This is certainly a unique fellow among team leaders, is he not? I mean he's a decent tactician, cares for his troops -- but his brooding personality really spills over into this scene. Well if it's going to be all that, then I can't wait!