Monday, April 1, 2013

Head Games -- That's All I Get From You: X-Men 117

X-Men #117 (January 1979)
Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin

Doug:  In most parts of the northern hemisphere it's spring, yet as I write this the last vestiges of a late-March snowfall remain.  Sheesh!  Maybe I need Storm to swing by and work some of her mutant-magic!  Anyway, Karen and I thought about doing the "Proteus" saga, but when we looked at April she noticed that it has five Mondays this year.  Because I tend to get just a bit uptight about packages not nicely and neatly wrapped, she placated me by agreeing that we could throw in this one-off from several months before "Proteus" bowed.  And yes, for our longtime readers, we are aware that we have begun to skip around a bit in our X-Men reviews (which, by the way, are the only ones that were linearly reviewed in the first place), but we'll be sure to come back and get the Sunfire and Arcade stories at some later dates.  Onward, then!

Doug:  We pick up this story right after the Savage Land epic, which of course followed the second Magneto epic -- you can check out all of those reviews by venturing into the BAB library.  You'll be scrolling all the way to the bottom for all of this mutant mayhem.  So six of our heroes are on a large raft, attempting to make their way through the Cape Horn passage around the southern tip of South America.  The winds, rains, and waves are violent, and Storm is unable to do much in terms of calming any of that.  Colossus remarks about the ferocity of it all, and Wolverine tosses in one of those little lines that make you scratch your head a bit:  "Count yer blessings, Bub.  This is summer.  In mid-winter it's really rough!"  How would he know?  The team searches for any further use of their powers, such as Banshee's scream, but it's no use.  The art team, including the colorist, do a phenomenal job of depicting the rain -- it's really quite believable.  And this isn't good.  That is, until a Japanese ship comes along and rescues our drifters.  Even this scene is a bit cryptic, as one officer remarks to his captain about the "mission-security".  The team is brought on board, introductions are made, and the Japanese offer up some hospitality... and that's the last we'll see of the All-New, All-Different X-Men in this tale!

Karen: It's really quite funny, because although we do only get a taste of our team in this issue, I found I didn't mind at all. Professor X's tale was compelling enough to make up for it. As for Wolverine knowing so much about weather patterns in the Cape Horn region, I suppose this was just the beginning of his evolution into the guy who knows and can do everything. I think it's next issue where we discover he reads and speaks Japanese. I agree wholeheartedly with you that the art team did a knockout job depicting the brutal tempest. The team looks like they are soaked to the skin.

Doug:  Back in Westchester, Jean Grey prepares to depart from the school that was her home as a teen and young adult.  With the X-Men believed dead following the collapse of Magneto's Antarctic fortress, Jean feels she has to get away from it all.  Princess Lilandra shows her to the door; Charles Xavier cannot bear to watch her leave.  After Jean exits, we learn of the depths of Charles' sorrow through Lilandra's thoughts.  This is a great scene -- while she muses we see her doing some very mundane tasks -- and struggling with the ways of Earth.  It's characterization done right -- drawn out only to the point of making a point (and in six panels!).  Take heed, writers of today!  Lilandra enters Charles' study to find him as she'd left him... dark, depressed, and difficult.  Charles has lost not only his life's work but basically his family.  And he comes to the conclusion that if he'd never formed the X-Men and just let them live out their lives in peace, they'd be alive and he wouldn't feel as he does.

Karen: Quiet story-telling and oh so effective.  He may be staring at the fire but he has photos of both his first and second teams sitting on a table right next to him.

Doug:  So Charles relates to Lilandra a story of "how it all began", taking her back to his doctoral days where he met and loved a woman named Moira MacTaggert.  Xavier says that he was drafted (he later states that it was in Korea), and although Moira had promised to wait for him, she instead later sent him a letter saying that their engagement was off and that she was heading back to Scotland -- and not to come after her.  Xavier was devastated, and began to wander around the Mediterranean, eventually ending up in Cairo.  He states that he wasn't interested at that point in resuming his studies on genetic mutations, but that he was financially independent.  Does anyone have any insights to this comment?  I suppose we could safely assume that he was in his early 20's when in his doctoral program, and after his service he'd have been pushing 30.  But as to any background with money, that is an angle I'm not familiar with.

Karen: I believe it was stated somewhere in the early issues of X-Men that Xavier's family was wealthy. The mansion, after all, was an inheritance. What I find fascinating was Claremonts' willingness to date his characters, tying Xavier to the Korean War here just the same way he tied Storm to the Suez Crisis in issue #102. Of course later he'd do his most famous act of putting a character into historical context by making Magneto a Holocaust survivor. You'd think by this point in time (1979) this would be a no-no. Wasn't Marvel already getting vague about whether Reed Richards and Ben Grimm served in World War 2? 

Doug:  You have to wonder if the creators were still thinking of comic books as "throwaways", something we've heard from the Golden Age creators for years.  They assumed that their stories would be read and discarded.  I find it hard to believe that by the Bronze Age this was still an assumption, as many of the guys and gals in the "director chair" had been fans themselves as kids.

Doug:  While in Cairo, walking through a bazaar, Xavier felt a pickpocket attack him.  It was a small girl, with white tresses.  You guessed it -- li'l Ororo!  She took off, with Xavier in hot pursuit.  He was finally able to subdue her with a small mental forcebolt, and in getting into her mind he could tell that she was different; but Claremont makes it clear that Xavier knew not the full extent of who (or what) she was until he was in desperate need of putting the All-New team together, and at that it sounds as if he never put it together that the little pickpocket was the woman he'd call Storm.  What do you make of this?  I know when John Byrne did his X-Men: The Hidden Years series, he had the original five team members meeting up with Ororo years before Xavier enlisted her.  I personally did not care for that retcon, but am curious to see what everyone thinks of this little nugget?  Is this any better or worse than the line I mentioned at the top, which seemed to add some as-yet-unknown layer of depth to Wolverine's character?

Karen: This felt a bit self-indulgent, one of those things where a writer says to themselves, "Ooh, wouldn't it be cool if..." Not that it's terrible, but it did seem a little forced. My reading of it though was that when Xavier assembled the new team, he recognized Storm was the girl who had picked his pocket years before. I don't recall reading the Byrne version.

Doug:  I don't know that you missed much if you didn't read Hidden Years -- it was a mixed bag.

Doug:  Just as Xavier had played his low-level assault on the little thief, he was in turn struck psychically with a hard blast.  Xavier's knocked to the ground, feeling not only the force of the assault but a tremendous presence of evil.  Sensing that the presence was within a nearby bar, Xavier cautiously entered and took a seat.  It wasn't long until his combatant showed himself, a rather large man of Middle Eastern descent calling himself Amahl Farouk.  Farouk is about as smarmy as they come, and at first reaches out to Xavier.  Charles counters with a statement about the obligations of mutants everywhere to protect each other and serve a greater good; as in those times with Magneto, these words go unheeded.  Xavier then assumes an astral form, not unlike Stephen Strange.  So it's on to the inevitable battle, which Farouk (calling himself the challenged) takes to a plane that Steve Ditko could have cooked up in an old Strange TalesFarouk morphs into different forms, at one point resembling the Silver Samurai, while Xavier dons armor reminiscent of a Spanish conquistador.  Most of the dialogue in this section of the story merely concerned the battle itself -- there really aren't any growth moments, until Xavier determines that he must stop fighting on Farouk's "showy" terms and match only the strength of his psychic assault.

Karen: Great mood in the way this sequence is drawn in the bar. It's so very still yet sinister. Farouk reminds me of an Arabic Kingpin. Farouk clearly has had some practice, which makes one wonder how many telepaths are running around out in the Marvel universe? Or perhaps Farouk has projected his consciousness into other planes of reality and encountered non-human foes? Whatever the case might be, he appears to have the upper hand almost immediately, controlling the terms of the engagement. I liked the way his appearance changed, almost from panel to panel, throwing Xavier off-guard, until he realizes it's all deception.

Doug:  There had been physical implications to the battle as well, as one of Farouk's bolts had also caused Xavier's body great pain.  But ignoring that, Xavier instead cleared his mind and shot a potent laser of psychic energy into Farouk's mind and soul, dropping him instantly.  But something that Farouk had said just prior to the culmination stuck with Xavier -- Farouk had said that Xavier's end would bring instant physical death but a long and tortuous mental expiration.  Xavier looked on Farouk's dead body as he passed it on the way out of the bar, but thought to himself that Farouk's own mental end had been for Xavier (still psychically connected to the villain) like a tour of Hell.  It was this experience that taught Charles Xavier that mutant energy and powers in the hands of the evil was something that need to be rooted out and contested.

Karen: Farouk made his morality clear: "Does the lion concern himself with the feelings of his prey? He takes what is his by right -as do I." It's the path evil men have followed since time began, and now Homo superior is trodding down the same path. Xavier, being diametrically opposed to such a thing, now has a mission.
I found the use of those three panels showing Xavier rising from his table and Farouk falling forward very effective.

Doug:  As Xavier came back to the present, he told Lilandra that he'd gone from Cairo to Tibet, where he'd fought the alien Lucifer and lost the use of his legs.  He mourned again for his X-Men, and told Lilandra how much he'd loved all of them.  She tried to bring him to reality, and offered that he come away with her, as she'd only recently done with him.  After a short consideration, Charles agreed -- he and his soul mate would head to the stars.  We then scene shift to Kennedy International Airport, where Jean Grey is about to embark on a vacation.  Suddenly Misty Knight comes along and they chat briefly.  Jean invites her to sit for a cup of coffee, but Misty says that she has to hurry to Tokyo in order to help Colleen Wing on a mission.  Tokyo, huh?  Doesn't that take us right back to the beginning, where our Merry Mutants are bound to end up?  You bet!  But, at least here on the BAB that's a yarn for another time.

Karen: Misty: "Give my love to Scott!"  Jean: "Sure." That ripped my heart out!

Doug:  What can you say?  Even in an issue that sort of served as a breather in between major storylines, that Claremont/Byrne/Austin magic is fully on display.  I've remarked many a'time that John Byrne's strength in this era was facial expressions.  He's always good at that, but in the Cairo scenes in particular it's top-of-his-game.  While the battle itself was really no big deal (at least to me), it did serve to flesh out the origin of Professor X.


Inkstained Wretch said...

No debate, Claremont/Byrne/Austin team were firing on all cylinders here. I'm not a big X-Man fan but even I have to admire the grace of the art and the well-wrought, well-focused story. They make it seem so easy but clearly it wasn't because there was very little else like this on spinner racks at the time. And, of course, Byrne and Claremont themselves would lose the knack a few years down the road...

Karen, as late as 1981(!) it was still cannon that Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were WWII veterans. See this Marvel Two-In-One issue:

Doc Savage said...

Storm as the child pickpocket is the kind of coinicidence that turns me off Claremont. No reason on earth that kid should be Storm aside from Claremont's Modesty Blaise fixation.

Must be hard to make a psychic battle interesting. I never understood why it would be interpreted as a physical fight so I'm glad Prof X cut that out and just used his brainpower.

Edo Bosnar said...

This was just reviewed, more briefly, at Comics Bronze Age; as I noted in my comment there, I first read the story here in this odd little pocketbook from the early '80s that reprinted GS X-men #1 plus #117 (in black & white). I guess the connection was that they were both sort of origin stories.
Anyway, I really liked this story. The Farouk showdown was cool, and, again, as I commented elsewhere, back then it made me wish for some "Adventures of Young Xavier" back-up stories.
And I didn't mind the young Ororo reference at all - I thought it was kind of cute; and I liked the way Xavier described 'hearing' "a bubbling telepathic laugh" in his mind. It was certainly better, and more plausible, then the original X-men meeting her as a teen later on (with Cyclops conveniently passed out the entire time) in Byrne's Hidden Years.

Doug said...

Edo --

I saw that last week. With all due respect, I felt validated in regard to what Karen and I do. It makes the "tender loving care" we put into our comic book and book reviews seem all the more worth it.

But, as Sly and the Family Stone sang, "And different strokes for different folks."


Anonymous said...

Happy Easter Monday everyone! Yes, another holiday in T & T!

I read this issue many years ago, about the time when I was actively collecting X-men books so I have fond memories here - first off, even thought the team only makes a cameo here, it's a nice change of pace, spotlighting a defining moment in Xavier's past. It show you why he decided to become a mutant crusader and ultimately form the X-men later on.

As for Wolverine knowing the weather in Cape Horn, it'll always be retconned that he's travelled around the world on his spy missions long before he joined the X-men. He is over 100 years old, isn't he? It explains why he knows so much, but it becomes a tiresome plot device if overused, e.g. how does he know the language and customs in a strange country? Well, just retcon it to one of his many secret adventures 50 years ago!

Karen, I do believe there are many telepaths in the Marvel universe, Xavier and Jean Grey being the most prominent ones.

Baby Storm was cute, but I felt it wasn't necessary to the story. Claremont could have omitted her here and it would still have worked.

I loved the battle between Xavier and Farouk on the astral plane. Byrne was at his best here. I think Claremont was trying to portray Farouk as a thoroughly ruthless mutant who had fought and killed many others before he met Xavier. Farouk would most likely have gone on to murder countless others if he was left alive. Xavier realizes then and there how dangerous evil mutants can be when he battles Farouk, so it sets the tone for Xavier's actions later in life.

All in all, a nice story with Professor X in the midst of the action for once. They don't make comics like this anymore!

- Mike 'my astral self is coming now. Zzzzzz' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

Well, yes, NOW there are apparently mutants on every street corner and a zillion telepaths. But back then, it still seemed like they were a rare beast, so it made me wonder how Farouk had become so adept at astral combat. But regardless, it was an engaging story.

david_b said...

Much like Inkstained, not a X-Men fan, but it's easy to admire Byrne's art, to a point. I always love how he drew Cyclops and Wolvie, but as others have commented about other artists, I feel his actual faces all tend to look alike after awhile.

And with Byrne, I find I really focus on inkers: When you have the right inker, it's indeed gorgeous and I can handle it for several issues (Avengers 'Wundagore'); if not, I cannot barely through one issue.. (like later sketchy FF).

I too liked the rain and how it was used in the early part of the story.. Very effective and it looked great.

Doc Savage said...

Is today's article's title a Foreigner reference?

Fred W. Hill said...

I recall that it was Stan & Jack that established that Charles Xavier was a Korean War vet, serving with his step-brother Marko and stumbling onto the cave where Marko got the powers that transformed him into the Juggernaut. When that story was originally published, of course, the Korean War was only about 15 years in the past rather than over 60 as now. As it is, even the draft came to an end about 40 years ago now and it doesn't seem likely Charles would have interrupted his studies to volunteer in the armed services during peace-time, or for that matter even during our more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eventually, Marvel might have to come up with a story explaining how the the cosmic ray storm that created the FF & the gamma bomb explosion that created the Hulk somehow also zapped everyone on the Marvel planet giving them all incredibly fantastical extended lifespans.

William Preston said...

I had this when it came out. Part of what was great in this era of the X-Men was the sense of no limits: you had no idea where the stories were going, who would live and die, and whether you were in the midst of some huge story arc (really, you were always in the middle of the über-arc) or heading into a digression like this tale. Good times!

Doug said...

It sure is, Matt. Karen and I often use song titles for our comics reviews. It seemed appropriate for today's storyline.


Doc Savage said...

That is a great point, William, about how you never knew if a character might be killed off or leave the team or what would happen next. I enjoyed that in team comics like New Teen Titans. Well, obviously Robin wouldn't die, but as for the rest almost anything could happen and even Robin turned into Nightwing. Same with the Defenders other than the Hulk or Doc Strange. Although i generally prefer solo titles (Spidey, Flash, Daredevil, moon Knight), you always knew the lead character would come thru okay in the end. With teams like the X-Men, Defenders, and Teen Titans, almost no one had his own title so almost anything could happen. Made a fun sense of uncertainty and wonder.

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything everyone's said....another thing I liked about the title at the time was that unlike other characters who'd be out "on patrol" or heard some villain had escaped and felt obliged to recapture them, things simply happened to the X-Men and they just had to knuckle down and cope with what was thrown at them.

Also, Byrne was not at the stage where you wondered whether he was phoning it in; there was that great one page at the start of Prof X's reminiscing that recalled Neal Adams in its layout (large Prof X head with other panels integrated).

As for the child Ororo's cameo, it sounds very much like one of those "Wouldn't it be cool if..." moments that Byrne later criticised Claremont for - at the time it seemed a fairly harmless, playful scene, but of course it was early days so you could forgive that kind of thing more.

B Smith

Bruce said...

Doug captures my feelings on this issue quite nicely: Even in a "breather" issue like this, there's something special about the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men run. This series was solid gold on a month-in, month-out basis. This era of X-Men would make my short list of "If you were stranded on a desert island..." comics.

I actually liked X-Men: The Hidden Years quite a bit. Byrne's recent output has been up-and-down, quality wise, but I thought X-Men: THY was one of his real successes.

Edo Bosnar said...

Bruce, I was a bit disappointed with Hidden Years - and I'm saying this as a really, really big fan of Byrne. The art is, naturally, quite lovely, but I found quite a few flaws in his storytelling. And I think it was a big mistake for him to plan it as an open-ended series that would go on for about 50-60 issues instead of just sticking to the 23 or so 'missing' issues of X-men.

Bruce said...

Edo, what is your favorite Byrne project of the past 10 years or so?

Edo Bosnar said...

Bruce, I quite thoroughly enjoyed Byrne's various Star Trek projects for IDW: Crew, McCoy: Frontier Doctor, and the various Romulans minis collected in the Pawns of War tpb (didn't like Assignment: Earth as much, though). It took Byrne to actually get me to finally read some Trek comics. I thought he told some fun stories while staying true to the source material. I'm also really interested in reading his Cold War mini, and that new series called High Ways.
Otherwise, throwing the net a little farther than the last 10 years, I also loved Generations I and II (DC Elsewords) and Marvel: The Lost Generation (which partnered him up once more with Roger Stern).

Bruce said...

Yeah, I liked his Star Trek stuff a lot, too. You could tell he's a big fan of the source material and, like you said, the stories were entertaining, too.

I'm enjoying Byrne's current series "The High Ways" quite a bit - think of it as "Long-haul truckers in space." It is set in a time when space travel is still new and dangerous, and Byrne does a great job of making this feel like a real adventure. I'd certainly recommend it.

I bought "Cold War" and, to be honest, it didn't do much for me. But I'm normally not a fan of James Bond-style spy thrillers, so maybe it's more that I don't connect with this type of story than anything to do with Byrne's telling of it.

Doc Savage said...

I didn't realize John Byrne was still working in comics.

Bruce said...

He sure is, Matt. Byrne has done a lot of project for IDW these past 5-6 years. Several Star Trek mini-series, some Angel (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) mini-series and one-shots, a Jurassic Park mini-series, the aforementioned Cold War mini-series, Trio (a superhero mini-series - the heroes are Rock, Paper and Scissors!) and the current High Ways. IDW also published new stories in Byrne's creator-owned Next Men series and reprinted all of the original material.

So he's staying quite busy, and I like most of his recent output. This Bronze Age legend is very much still in the game.

Edo Bosnar said...

Bruce, I knew there was something I had forgetten in that comment above: Next Men. I'm really, really interested in reading the new stuff.

Comics Bronze Age said...

I’m pretty sure this was the first X-Men comic I ever read. The first issue I really remember – and the one that hooked me – was #129. But when I finally tracked down this back issue it seemed really, really familiar.

I LOVE the Claremont/Byrne X-Men; it’s the series that took Little Me from casual reader to comic fanatic. And I remain a big Byrne fan. I enjoyed much of his IDW output (particularly Next Men) and many of the commission pieces he shares on his website are quite amazing.

Great reviews, Bronze Age Babies. Keep ’em coming!

Comics Bronze Age editor

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