Monday, April 1, 2013
Head Games -- That's All I Get From You: X-Men 117
X-Men 117 (Jan. 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 Tales. Farouk 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.