Wednesday, September 16, 2009

October 1978
Chris Claremont (author), John Byrne (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Jean Simek (letterer), Glynis Wein (colorist), Jim Shooter (editor)

The Beast and Jean find themselves stranded in Antarctica. Luckily Jean's frantic attempts to get back underground to rescue the others attracts the attention of a helicopter pilot (I know, I know, it happens anyway) who rescues them. Returning to the mansion, Professor Xavier comes to believe that the other X-Men are dead. But, of course, they're not dead; instead they've wound up in the Savage Land and they too think that the others are dead. After having to deal with the local wildlife, the X-Men stay at a village, where Cyclops realizes he feels nothing after Jean's "death" while Colossus knocks up a local girl (no, really). After going off for a bath, Ororo disappears, and the X-Men soon learn that she's been taken by their old enemy Sauron.

Continuity Notes

Much, much later in Uncanny X-Men Annual #12 we find out that Colossus does sleep with one of the women he walks away with and she does get pregnant with a child, who is named Peter. He never gets referenced again, but I'm always impressed when superheroes leave behind illegitimate children.


Usually I love stories that show the universes of the Big Two to be wild and diverse places, but I''ve never really liked the Savage Land in any of the stories I've read. It's not that I'm against the whole Tarzan riff, but it always seems like the Savage Land is one of those elements that keeps being brought back for its own sake, not because the writers actually have any new stories to tell about it. Worse, this story brings back probably my least favorite villain from the X-Men's Silver Age period, Sauron, who just seems like one of those characters you can't even explain to people who don't read superhero comics ("Well, see, first this guy and his girlfriend were attacked by pterodactyls from Antarctica in Tierra del Fuego...") And this story hasn't really changed my mind.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Superman #75

January 1993
Dan Jurgens (writer and pencils), Brett Breeding (inks), Glenn Whitmore (colors) , John Costanza (letters), Mike Carlin (editor)

While the world watches through Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen's TV reporting, a weakened Superman and Doomsday fight on the streets of Metropolis. Although Superman is exhausted and badly wounded, he refuses to wait for reinforcements, believing he's the only one who has a chance at defeating Doomsday permanently. Finally Doomsday does fall, but so does Superman, who dies in Lois Lane's arms.


When this issue came out, it was a media, if not a cultural, event. I won't say that "death's revolving door" wasn't already an industry cliché or that anyone, even the Powers That Be at DC, weren't at least all but saying that Superman was going to come back sooner or later, but it was practically unheard of for the Big Two to kill off such an iconic, important character. The biggest superhero deaths I can think of before the "death" of Superman were the deaths of Captain Marvel and Barry Allen, but Captain Marvel had pretty much no resonance outside not-casual comic book fans and Barry Allen was even before "Crisis of Infinite Earths" established as a legacy character. So, yes, killing Superman was a cheap, one-shot publicity ploy, but it was a very effective cheap, one-shot publicity ploy, something that's easy to forget nowadays.

Unfortunately, it just didn't make for an interesting story, much less the genre-defining epic it aspires to be. For one thing, the entire issue is composed of splash pages. One would guess it's for establishing a cinematic quality to the comic, but, given the way the rest of the story played out, it's tempting to guess it was just a way to stretch out the conclusion. Jurgens once again tries to raise the gravitas by showing that Superman knows he's in the fight of his life and is essentially sacrificing himself since he's the only superhero who can stop Doomsday, but Jurgens can't quite bring the fight above the level of a brutal fist fight. Plus it doesn't help that over the years Doomsday has basically become a bruiser villain, a problem that haunts all event-villains.

At least Jurgens' art is suitably dramatic and crisp, despite its '90s trappings, and the last panel of Superman dying under a sobbing Lois Lane is actually very powerful, at least to us proud comic geeks. Still, when you compare this to DC's other big event, the breaking of Batman's back, the problems become all the more visible. Of course, the Knightfall storyline had its own issues (which we'll hopefully get to 10 or so years down the road) and like Doomsday Bane eventually lost his effectiveness from overuse by various writers, but at least Bane was a good foil for Batman: an opponent who was an intellectual powerhouse, a physical rival, and driven to an almost psychotic degree. Doomsday, however, is a villain with no personality, no motive, and no connection, even a thematic one, to Superman. I guess you can argue that Doomsday was the Michael Myers of supervillains: pointless destruction embodied in one entity. But Doomsday just never comes across as important. Frankly the only thing that makes Superman's fight with Doomsday feel that important is that Superman just happens to die at the end of it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #113

September 1973
Chris Claremont (author), John Byrne (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Gaspar Saladino and (letterer), Mary Titus (colorist), Jim Shooter (editor)

While the X-Men are still infantilized prisoners in his Antarctic base, Magneto conducts a series of raids on research facilities in Australia and New Zealand, stealing equipment. After a failed attempt, though, Storm is able to free herself and the others using a pin from her headress and the skills she learned as a thief in Cairo. Magneto is viciously ambushed by the X-Men when he returns and the fight eventually damages the base, which was located under a volcano, enough that lava begins to flood the chamber. Magneto escapes, as do Beast and Phoenix, but they are left stranded in Antarctica, believing that the others are dead.


Admittedly it is a little hokey for Magneto to have a base in a volcano (besides being very James Bond villain-y, it's so impractical), but the issue is so packed with an effective action sequence and character details it's a small quibble. It's worth pointing out that we're still not quite to the point where Magneto becomes a "tragic anti-hero", but already Claremont has more or less stripped him of much of his "raving megalomaniac" persona.


This is the first time Storm's background as a thief and pickpocket is mentioned. And, yes, she is the only character that really gets a detailed backstory by this point.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Superman: The Man of Steel #19

"Doomsday Is Here!"
Louise Simonson (writer), Jon Bogdanove (pencils), Dennis Janke (inks), Glenn Whitmore (colors) , Bill Oakley (letters), Mike Carlin (editor)

Superman catches up with Doomsday at a construction site in Metropolis. He tries to carry Doomsday into outer space, but Doomsday escapes his grip. Now on the streets of Metropolis, Doomsday happens to come across the imprisoned Warworlders, who assume that Doomsday was sent to save them but instead he kills most of them. Supergirl, Cadmus' soldiers, Dan Turpin, Maggie Sawyer, and Professor Hamilton (armed with a giant laser, of course) join the fray, but to no avail. Superman vows that Metropolis will be where he will "hold the line."


I don't know what else to say by this point, so I'll just reiterate what I've been pointing out from the beginning: it's all just one long action scene, it's five times longer than it needs to be, and it's cross-franchise "event" storytelling at its worst. I will say that Louise Simonson does turn out the most interesting chapter so far, but she does benefit from being able to throw more of Superman's supporting cast into the mix. Maybe the story suffers from knowing where it's headed, but honestly the whole thing just reads like a really lackluster Superman/Incredible Hulk crossover (if the Hulk normally slaughtered innocent people).


At this point the Guardian was an agent of the Cadmus Project (which happened to be headed by the former Newsboy Legion). As you might guess, Dubbilex is one of Cadmus' creations.

Page 15, Panel 1 - What's up with Supergirl?! Well, this version of the character was a "protoplasmic matrix" created by a Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth to fight off a trio of Kryptonian criminals. After said criminals ended up destroying her homeworld regardless, she returned with Superman. Also the reason Lex Luthor is attracted to her - and is pretty obviously creasing the sheets with her on a daily basis - is because the other-universe Lex modeled her after his number one love, Lana Lang. And hopefully that's the most I'll ever have to write about the hellishly complex history of post-Crisis Supergirl(s).

Uncanny X-Men #112

"Magneto Triumphant!"
Chris Claremont (author), John Byrne (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Bruce Patterson (letterer), Mary Titus (colorist), Jim Shooter (editor)

The X-Men prepare to fight Magneto, but that idea is quickly vetoed when they discover that Magneto is using his powers to fly Mesmero's office/caravan. Magneto denies being involved with Mesmero's scheme, claiming that he never even met him before, and says he would have freed the X-Men from Mesmero's brainwashing if the Beast didn't do it for him. Unceremoniously Magneto ejects Mesmero from the caravan, stating (rather unconvincingly) that Mesmero will land on the ground virtually unharmed. When the caravan lands, the long-awaited battle begins, but only Jean proves to be a match for the rejuvenated Magneto and her powers give out at the worst possible moment, as if she hit an absolute limit. Later the X-Men find themselves strapped to mechanical chairs, unable to speak and barely able to move, and being tended to like infants by a robot named - and looking the part of a - Nanny.


Really I think this is where the Claremont/Byrne run really hits the ground running, in terms of both the art and the writing. The design for Nanny is quite inspired, like something out of a Douglas Adams novel, and Byrne at his best can draw one fantastic action scene. And while it is a cliche to praise a superhero comic from the pre-"Watchmen" era by referring to any "dark" and "mature" turns, there is something really striking about how it's basically a story about the good guys being kidnapped and brutally tortured by a villain - and not so they wouldn't be around to stop their latest evil scheme, but just out of pure hatred. Plus Magneto's idea for vengeance is downright disturbing, even in an era when mutilation and sadism in superhero comics are de rigeur.


It's been pretty obvious since the "reboot" that, apart from Magneto, Jean, and Cyclops, Claremont wasn't all that interested in the X-Men's Silver Age adventures, so it's a little off-putting when the continuity is referenced here. Anyway, the big deal is that originally Magneto was working with Mesmero in X-Men #48-51 in a convoluted plot to raise a mutant army and get Lorna Dane/Polaris to believe that she was Magneto's long-lost daughter (decades later, she actually does turn out to be Magneto's biological daughter, but that's another story...), but a retcon in #58 showed that the Magneto from that story was a robot - with no explanation. As happens more often than you might think in comics, "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #7" wrote the whole thing off as a scheme by Starr Saxon and called it a day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Action Comics #684

December 1992
"...Doomsday is Near!"
Roger Stern (writer), Jackson Guice (pencils), Denis Rodier (inks), Glenn Whitmore (colors) , Bill Oakley (letters), Mike Carlin (editor)

After recovering, Superman tracks Doomsday to a highway where he saves a driver whose car has been thrown into the air. Doomsday carries his rampage to a Lex-Mart where he learns about Metropolis from a TV ad about pro-wrestling (no, really). Meanwhile from a helicopter Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen start reporting on Superman and Doomsday's fighting from a helicopter. The brawl happens to erupt onto the mountain base of the Cadmus Project, where Superman is buried under some debris. Before he can get out, Doomsday reaches Metropolis.


This issue is treading water, and worse it's obvious, especially once the story ends with Superman just getting knocked out again and Doomsday moving on. Roger Stern does try to give the story some weight by focusing on the tragic toll Doomsday's rampage is making, and by presenting a more compassionate (and true to the character) Superman than Dan Jurgens, but there's just no getting around that this is a story stretched out of proportion by the need to have an installment in every title in the "Superman" franchise. (Cool cover, though!)


I forgot to mention, but it's all but clearly established in this storyline that Metropolis is on the East Coast, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region or in the northeast. (It's funny, I always thought of Gotham City as being on the East Coast while Metropolis is in the Midwest).

I should also mention...the bearded, long-haired, Australian guy running around? That's Lex Luthor. See, he developed terminal cancer (from, in a brilliant twist, radiation poisoning caused by kryptonite), so he faked his death, placed his mind in the body of a clone, and passed himself off as his own illegitimate son.

Page 6, Panel 1 - Doomsday and Superman's next fight takes place in Midvale, which is actually a part of Superman continuity; it was the hometown of the Silver Age Supergirl. And since the last issue stated that Superman was tracking Doomsday through Ohio, this Midvale may also be the real-life Midvale, Ohio (sadly the city authorities have yet to take advantage of this by launching a "Hometown of Supergirl, But Not The Current One, We Think" campaign). Also, for those of you interested in DC Universe geography, the issue also establishes that Metropolis is roughly less than 100 miles from Midvale, which, if we accept the implication that Midvale is in Ohio, puts Metropolis either elsewhere in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Kentucky. Phew!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #111

April 1978
Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (pencils), Terry Austin (inks), Mary Titus (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Archie Goodwin (editor)

In Texas, the Beast finds the missing X-Men, who are performing in a carnival with Banshee as the carnival barker, Cyclops as a guard, and the other X-Men as performers and "freaks." The Beast tries to talk to Jean Grey, who doesn't recognize him and calls herself "Miz Destiny", but he only succeeds in getting beaten up by Cyclops, Colossus, and the rest of the hired muscle. The Beast is dragged before the party responsible, Mesmero, who is out for revenge for the time the X-Men defeated him. However, the chaos briefly caused by the Beast is enough to bring Wolverine out of Mesmero's mind control, and he promptly breaks the others from their trances. Converging on Mesmero's trailer, they find that he's unconscious - and sitting at his desk is Magneto.


For some reason I always think about this issue or the "Dark Phoenix Saga" when the topic of the Claremont/Byrne run comes up. At the very least this issue does have a great set-up; we cut straight to the Beast discovering the X-Men in a carnival/freak show and having to find out who's behind it. Aside from bringing back and refining the character of Magneto, Claremont didn't really tap into the X-Men's Silver Age rogues' gallery for a reason, but the use of Mesmero here is quite a nice twist, as is the final reveal at the end. It's the sort of thing that makes superhero comics - or any good serial genre, really - so much fun.