Thursday, August 11, 2016

An Uncanny Readthrough: #226-250

Two panels of Dazzler addressing Rogue, Storm, and Psylocke. She says, 'Given the way we live?! That is, if you call this living. I mean, anybody here ever ask themselves what all this is FOR? It's like, we fight, we save the world, we die, we get resurrected, we rest up, and then start the whole stupid cycle all over again. But where in that enter Moebius loop do we get to live?' Storm asks, 'What do you mean, Allison?'
The series in a nutshell. From UNCANNY X-MEN #244.

As always, this post contains spoilers that shouldn’t be of much consequence to anyone who’s familiar with the contemporary X-Men.

Welcome to Part VIII of my epic, UNCANNY-centric journey through the X-Men’s history. If you missed the first seven parts, you can find them under my dedicated X-Men tag. If that’s too much homework, you can jump in here with no worries.

That’s the nice thing about the X-Men. Everybody constantly talks about everything that’s ever happened to them, ever, so you needn’t worry about spoilers or confusion. Jump in anywhere! Enjoy the shenanigans!

But yes. Part VIII takes us from #226 to #250. These twenty-five issues ran from February 1988 to November 1989; slightly less than two years thanks to the introduction of a bi-monthly schedule with #233. Chris Claremont writes the scripts, and will continue to do so for a teensy bit longer. The title once again enters an era of artistic consistency as Marc Silvestri pencils the bulk of this segment, usually with inker Dan Green but also with Joe Rubinstein, Hilary Barta, and Steve Leialoha for an issue each. Rick Leonardi provides guest pencils four times with inks by Dan Green, Terry Austin, and P.Craig Russel, while Jim Lee pencils a single issue with inker Dan Green.

These creators recognize that no one could consider UNCANNY X-MEN a proper series if none of the characters ever faked their own death and/or went mad and tried to destroy the world. They also notice it’s been far too long since either of those things happened and proceed accordingly via two crossovers.

The first of these, Fall of the Mutants, is one of those comics events where each included series follows its own course. Readers needn’t jump back and forth between them to get the whole story, though you may wish to pop over to NEW MUTANTS and X-FACTOR to see how those teams deal with the fallout from the X-Men’s battle at Eagle Plaza. It’s all pretty low key, so far as interconnected stories go.

From the X-Men’s perspective, though, it’s intense. And after a lengthy struggle in the public eye (thanks to a mutant-friendly videographer who follows the X-Men into the breach), the whole team fakes their own deaths and goes to hide out in Australia without so much as informing their families they’re still alive and kicking. Because really, how else are they supposed to get a drop on the bad guys?

Oh, and Storm gets her powers back in #226, pre-fake-death. Finally.

Storm, dressed in a short fringed dress, soars through the air. Her dialogue reads, 'Bright blessed goddess--I can once more fly!'
Yay, Storm's airborne again! From UNCANNY X-MEN #226

The second crossover, Inferno, is of a type more familiar to contemporary readers. Interested parties should prepare themselves to jump back and forth between UNCANNY X-MEN and X-FACTOR as per the little “see [whatever issue] for the next part of the story!” captions at the end of each chapter. The New Mutants participate in the event, too, but their book isn’t required reading so I skipped it due to time constraints.

Inferno is wild, y’all. It’s got plot twists and retcon to spare; and while we’ve seen this sort of thing before on a smaller scale, I feel like this is the point at which, “WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN GOING ON WITH THE X-MEN???” becomes a seriously legit question.

So. What the hell is going on with the X-Men?

I’m glad you asked.

Jean Grey isn’t dead. She’s been in a pod thing at the bottom of the ocean for the last few years, the Phoenix Force having taken over her life and lived it for her. (How extremely uncreepy.) She comes back to the world because of reasons.

Madelyne Pryor is a Jean-clone Mr Sinister, geneticist extraordinaire, crafted because he was butt-hurt Professor X recruited actual-Jean before he could. When Phoenix relinquished her hold on Jean’s life in #137, she tried to merge her psyche with Jean’s, but Jean’s subconscious was like, “Noooo, you killed too many people, I cannot become you!”

Because Jean’s a good person, yeah? And we couldn’t possibly root for her again if she was okay with her doppelganger having eaten a couple planets?

Me, I love a good redemption arc, but Claremont did not consult my six-year-old self (who, to be fair, probably would’ve preferred that Jean never be “tarnished” in such a fashion. Six-year-old me held some antiquated views on characterization).

Anyways, since Jean wouldn’t take the Phoenix Force’s memories into herself, it looked for the next best thing: Madelyne, Sinister’s still-un-decanted clone. It merged with her, she woke up with sorta-amnesia (because of course she did), and Sinister set her up as a pilot in Alaska because he had a feeling Cyclops would eventually reconnect with his space pirate dad who’d take him to see his Alaskan grandparents who’d have hired Madelyne who’d meet Cyclops, after which point Shit Would Get Real.

Sidebar: while very few of these vintage issues contain their original letters pages, I recently laughed my ass off at one that cited realism as the X-Men’s greatest strength.

I guess this about as realistic as you can get if you live in a CW show.

So yeah, Jean comes back from the dead (/from her ocean pod) and Cylops runs out on Madelyne. Mr Sinister steps in to erase Madelyne’s life from the public record because it makes it less likely anybody’ll ask awkward questions. In the process, Sinister also steals her baby (who’s gonna grow up to be Cable) and tries to erase Madelyne herself.

Naturally, Madelyne escapes, goes mad, and begins to plot VENGEANCE. This involves infiltrating the X-Men, turning them against X-Factor by editing all the video footage that enters the Australian compound, making lots of deals with demons, seducing Havok, and becoming the Goblin Queen. Once she learns the truth of her origins, she adds "sacrifice Tiny Cable to make a portal that’ll turn the world into a festering hellscape" to her to-do list.

A single, close-in panel of Madelyne looming over baby Cable. Her dialogue reads, 'Your ambition is a world to rule. In one stroke, I make it ashes. I abjur life, 'Father,' and give myself over whole and unreservedly to the fire! An INFERNO--that will consume you all!
Burn, world, burn! From UNCANNY X-MEN #241

Everyone battles it out for bunches of issues (including some double-sized ones) before Jean reabsorbs Madelyne and the Phoenix Force’s memory bank (which remains in stasis for now). Because that’s the sort of thing that happens in this comic.

It’s at once an absorbing story and a hell of a shitty ending for Madelyne, who I’d really come to like since she joined up with the core team. The shitty ending becomes even shittier when you read up on it and learn the whole storyline exists because Marvel wanted to resurrect Jean and needed an excuse for Cyclops to dump his wife for her. Everyone behind the scenes was like, “Fuck. We can’t have Cyclops do such a shitty thing. We have to make it so he’s justified. How ‘bout Madelyne’s a crazy clone lady? Nobody could expect Cyclops to stay with a crazy clone lady when Jean Grey’s on offer.”

Nope. Cyclops should feel really fucking bad about what he did, clone or no.

Madelyne, of course, will be retconned back to life a ways down the line under the Nobody (Except Thunderbird) Ever Stays Dead rule. But we’ll talk about that when I come to it and as it impacts UNCANNY.

/longwinded explanation of completely sensical plot

Much of this twenty-five issue chunk leads into Inferno, but plenty of other things happen too. The Brood returns and takes over a ton of people, all of whom have to be Dealt With. This Dealing affects Havok so deeply that he becomes a murder addict.

Murder addictions are almost as important as faked deaths and world-destroying madwomen, y’know?

One of the people Havok kills during his murder addict phase is Storm, via a friendly fire incident where they both aim to take down Nanny’s ship. Don’t worry; it’ll all turn out okay(ish). I wouldn’t lie to you about something as important as Storm’s second fake death.

Genosha bursts onto the scene as a nation intent on enslaving all mutants for the benefit of its non-mutant citzenry. Wolverine and Carol Danvers (who now actively shares Rogue’s body) help some of the Genoshans see how extremely wrong this is, paving the way for revolution and Genosha’s future status as the mutant homeland. Most of that battle’ll be fought in other titles.

As a point of interest, I’d never previously seen anything about Genosha’s location, so I pictured it somewhere in the Atlantic. Turns out, it’s off the east coast of Africa, right near Madagascar. Go on and guess what colour the politicians and genticists are.

Yeah. It’s like that.

I suppose we could assume Genosha has a terrible, colonial history that's resulted in a predominantly white upper class, but none of that makes it onto the page (at least in UNCANNY). It comes across as Marvel's reluctance to create two technologically advanced black African nations. Again, we can suppose there’s a chance they realized introducing a nation of mostly evil black people could be a problem, but in that case there’s a very simple solution: keep the Genoshans white and put the island somewhere other than Africa. It’s a made up place! You can do that with made up places!


Like I mentioned, the Genosha storyline brings Carol Danvers back into the mix. Carol’s resurgence as a viable personality causes a lot of problems for Rogue, who once again faces up to the worst thing she ever did (which: absorbing Carol’s entire personality and powers). Eventually, her guilt and Carol’s influence will get her exiled to another dimension but she, too, will soon be back.

Outside of UNCANNY, two new spinoff series start up: EXCALIBUR, in which Kitty, Nightcrawler, and Rachel form a UK-based superhero team with Captain Britain and a couple of others after they believe in the X-Men’s fake death and decide there’s no point going back to the US without their friends; and WOLVERINE, which sees the surliest mutant of them all get his own ongoing monthly.

EXCALIBUR has minimal impact on UNCANNY at this point in the timeline. WOLVERINE, however, takes the titular character away from the main team for long stretches that everyone comments on, presumably in the hope the reader will say, “Hey, I can easily find out what’s going on with Wolvie if I shell out $1.25 a month for his own book! I think I’ll do that!”

Crossovers and spinoffs serve a pretty straightforward purpose.

Jubilee also arrives on the scene, full of painful faux-teenage lingo and the occasional transphobic comment. I like her far less than I expected to, given my more recent interactions with her. As of #250, she’s spent all her time lurking around the X-Men’s Australian compound without introducing herself. One hopes she makes a better impression once she actually starts interacting with the team.

Sadly, Longshot leaves after his luck powers go a little haywire and he decides he’s no longer an asset to the team. I miss his cheerful weirdness.

Then there’s this whole thing with the High Evolutionary and Polaris, after which everyone returns to Australia to deal with the aftermath of something that happened in WOLVERINE.

Whew. That was a lot of action in these twenty-five issues and more “let’s explain this stuff” than I usually aim for. I promise a bit more commentary next time, when a bunch of people come back from the dead and we meet my teenage self’s fave.

(It’s Gambit. Teenage Me loooooooved Gambit.)

A single panel in which Kazar asks Havok, 'Pardon my asking, but aren't you X-Men supposed to be dead?' Havok replies, 'What of it?' Kazar says, 'Hey, no problem, I was dead myself once. Shot in the head, y'know. It was no picnic. But I got better.

Everyone gets better (except Thunderbird). From UNCANNY X-MEN #250.

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