Tuesday, August 30, 2016

An Uncanny Readthrough: #251-275

A single panel. On the left, a soldier runs up the hill. On the right, we focus in on Havok as he says, 'How can we even call ourselves a team anymore, just the four of us left, living out in the middle of nowhere, what good are we to anyone? How does this further Professor Xavier's dream--remember, the one that brought us all together--of a better world, where mutant and human can live together in peace? Listen to me--mutant and human--as though being the one precluded the other. It's like we perpetuate the prejudice, even as we try to fight it. Well, I've had it, folks. I've paid my dues--we all have, with the scars to prove it. I say, the time's come to call it quits!'
Time to back away, folks. From UNCANNY X-MEN #251

As per usual, this post contains spoilers that shouldn’t matter to anyone who’s familiar with the contemporary X-Men. It’s also Part Nine of my quest to read UNCANNY X-MEN in its entirety, but you don’t need to check out my previous posts in order to read this one.

(If you want to, though, they’re available under my dedicated X-Men tag.)

These twenty-five issues are written by Chris Claremont. The twice-monthly schedule that rules a portion of this period means a large number of artists contribute their talents. Jim Lee co-plots and pencils ten issues, with inks by Scott Williams, Josef Rubinstein, and Art Thiebert. Marc Silvestri pencils seven issues, most often with inker Dan Green but once with Steve Leialoha. Bill Jaaska and Mike Collins contribute two issues each, all with inker Rubinstein, while Rick Leonardi (with inker Kent Williams) and Homage Studios also take on an issue each. #273, which concludes a crossover, features a few pages each by Whilce Portacio, Klaus Janson, John Byrne, Rick Leonardi, Marc Silvestri, Michael Golden, Larry Stroman, and Jim Lee, with inks by Scott Williams throughout.

And with these issues, I fear the bubble has burst. As of #251, we’re into another boring patch.

From where I stand, that's down to the lack of a coherent team feel. By this point in the X-Men’s history (ie, the late 80s/early 90s), Marvel’s mutants are spread across multiple books that take them on all sorts of divergent adventures. I’ve often cited UNCANNY X-MEN as a flagship title, but during this period it becomes a check-in title instead. Many of the issues carry subtitles like, “Featuring Storm/Magneto/Rogue/Wolverine/Whoever.” They give us a chance to see what individual characters are up to, possibly in company with another familiar face or two, but the sort of battles they fight mean there’s no need for the big team-ups that are an ensemble book’s bread and butter. The only larger arc we see across these issues occurs in small slices across many, many issues.

This does create an overarching mystery that must’ve intrigued monthly readers, though, and it's easy to forget that that was the ultimate goal before trade collections and digital comics became ubiquitous. Comics creators wanted to deliver stories that’d satisfy anyone who snatched the book off a turning rack, whether they were a long-time reader or a rank newbie.

I suppose, then, we can view this chunk as a return to that aesthetic after a large number of involved storylines and crossovers. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

Anyways, this run begins with an issue in which Psylocke, resident hardass, convinces her few remaining teammates (minus Wolvie) to enter the Siege Perilous, the mystical device that allows worthy people to start their lives over again after they’ve passed whatever tests it sets them. This fresh start involves a goodly dose of amnesia to spare them the emotional baggage that goes along with being an X-Man.

The amnesia angle sounds promising, but it’s far less exciting than it might be because it comes with relatively few complications. The Siege Perilous spits everyone out somewhere different, meaning most of them have minimal contact with anyone who knows about their old lives and can ramp up the tension as they attempt to reinvent themselves. Dazzler, who washes up at Lila Cheney’s beach house in California, stands in direct conflict with her past; everyone else scatters to the winds. Colossus becomes an artist in love with Callisto (whom Masque has reshaped into a two-eyed supermodel). Havok winds up in Genosha and gets folded into their military as an addendum to his murder addict phase.

Psylocke herself ends up in Asia with the Hand, who brainwash her into becoming their premiere assassin. This career change also involves extensive, partly magical plastic surgery so she’ll look Japanese and therefore fit with their brand.

Nothing problematic in that, right?

I knew it was coming and it’s better than what I assumed had happened when I learned Psylocke hadn’t always looked Japanese; however, since I assumed they’d murder a Japanese woman and transplant Psylocke’s brain into the deceased lady’s body, “better” sets the bar pretty damned low.

It's all the more cringeworthy because it comes hot on the heels of an issue in which we’re informed that Storm actually transcends race because she’s, like, really pretty in a whole bunch of ways.

Wow, Chris Claremont. Wow.

A single panel of a sleeping, youthful Storm. Someone off-panel says, 'Use an electronic scanner, try to record her, it's like she isn't there. Brown skin. But her features don't fit any conventional classification. Not negroid or caucasian or oriental--yet somehow an amalgam of the rarest elements of them all. White hair, blue eyes--'
Because 'conventional classifications' mean so much. From UNCANNY X-MEN #253.

Speaking of Storm--and backtracking according to Rule Number Four of X-Men (Chronology Is For Wimps)--guess who has her bodily autonomy violated three more times over these issues! The non-problematic things just keep on a-comin’!

First, it turns out the Storm Havok “killed” was actually a Life Model Decoy. (Pro tip: it’s always either a Skrull or a Life Model Decoy.) Real Storm was kidnapped by Nanny, aged down to adolescence, and stripped of her memories to fit with the “everybody’s got amnesia” theme.

Second: the Shadow King does his very best to psychically enslave her, as he’s longed to do since he encountered her during her (first) childhood in Cairo. (De-ageified Amnesiac Storm vaguely remembers Cairo, Egypt, and is really frickin’ confused to find herself in Cairo, USA after she escapes Nanny’s clutches.) He fails because Storm’s too fucking strong for him, but he does succeed in taking over a ton of other people, including Moira MacTaggert. As of #275, we’re still waiting to see how that turns out.

Third: quite a bit down the line, the Genoshans brainwash Storm and make her one of their mutate tools. She breaks their hold on her (because again, she’s that strong) and in the process manages to reverse the de-ageifying process because of reasons and stuff.

While I’m glad Claremont et al continue to show Storm saving herself instead of waiting to be rescued, the repeated violations are troubling as all hell. They also come with a perhaps unintended but still pernicious undercurrent of “maybe the Shadow King’s other victims and the mutates deserve it” because they don’t break themselves free.

And to add insult to injury, the whole thing really is remarkably dull for a story involving amnesia and mind control.

A few other important (and, alas, mostly dull) happenings:

While there isn’t a formal team for most of this run, Forge meets the folks on Muir Island and teams up with Banshee (who has his powers back!), and later with Jean, to find the amnesiac X-Men and figure out what’s going on with Moira.

Jubilee, Wolverine, and Psylocke pal around for a bit. Jubilee, unfortunately, continues to be an intolerant brat. I’ve transitioned from liking her less than I expected to to actively disliking her. Get it together, kid.

Storm meets Gambit during her adolescent period. They become badass thieves together in about as dull a way as one can, and Gambit follows Storm when she gets her memories back and rejoins the other X-Men.

There’s this whole big crossover centred on Genosha, but the relevant issues of NEW MUTANTS, X-FACTOR, and possibly WOLVERINE aren’t available on Marvel Unlimited. The story works without them, but there are definite gaps.

A panel of zombie Carol choking Rogue. Carol says, 'Haven't you realized yet--we don't possess sufficient life force between us to sustain two independant beings. As one prospers, the other rots. And guess what, 'sugah'--it won't be me!'
Well, this sucks. From UNCANNY X-MEN #269

Rogue emerges from the Siege Perilous and eventually ends up in the Savage Land possessed of all her memories but lacking her powers--and the half of her psyche that belongs to Carol Danvers. Turns out, the Siege Perilous physically separated the two of them, transforming Carol into a zombie who can only thrive while Rogue wanes. Luckily for Rogue, Magneto’s also been lurking around the Savage Land while he figures some stuff out, and he solves her problem by killing zombie-Carol so Rogue won’t have to.

That awkward moment when your fave kills your other fave.

Magneto and Rogue team up and look set to have a bit of a thing; an authorial decision that initially made me cringe but which I regret to inform you I’ve completely changed my stance on. (Never ship anything, kids. Shipping makes you stupid.) They never get any further than might've-been because Magneto decides the good guy track isn’t getting him the results he wants and he might as well re-embrace supervillainy.

That awkward moment when your fave turns evil (again).

Speaking of people going evil, Professor X bursts back onto the scene and looks set to take over the Shi’ar Empire as of #275. Tune in next time when we discover whether he’s a Skrull, a Life Model Decoy, or simply his usual self (ie, The Worst).

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