Thursday, December 15, 2005

X-Men 230-239

Another chunk of X-Men issues down, and at this point, I'm actually starting to get near the end of the Claremont run. Back in the 100s, it seemed like this run would never end, but now, forty issues away, the once vast expanse of issues now looks shockingly narrow. I've been reading this stuff since August, and it's odd to think that I won't have any more Claremont to read. Now, I could just keep going and read the non-Claremont stuff, but I really feel like the characters are so uniquely his that I have no desire to see what happens to them after he was tossed off the book. Plus, it's pricey and annoying to keep picking up these back issues, so this provides a good logical point to stop at.

Anyway, on to the book itself. This chunk of issues starts with further clarification of the X-Men's current status quo, based in Australia, but because of Gateway, they're able to go anywhere in the world. Having Gateway function as an all purpose transporter weakens the impact of the X-Men's isolation. With him, they're still able to go to the States and check in on the people they left there. The fact that the two four issue storylines in this chunk of issues take place off of Australia means that there's not too much significance to being based there. I suppose the idea was to give them a way to move around as a covert strike team, per their new mission statement in issue 229.

However, the fact that they're a covert strike team trying to hide their identities, yet still wear the exact same uniforms is rather nonsensical. I feel a tension between the demands of remaining the identifiable X-Men and exploring the potential of this new premise, and that tension is never satisfactorally resolved. Ultimately, the book feels basically the same, and only occasionally do they mention that they're a strike team again. Plus, the fact that Psylocke can wipe peoples' memories basically allows them to avoid any legitimate struggle in keeping their identity secret.

230 is largely designed to set up the new status quo, and to do a Christmas story. Christmas stories are usually cheesy, but this one works pretty well, largely because you don't even realize it's a Christmas thing until the end. It's not a great issue, but it certainly does what it sets out to do.

231 is a bit weaker, largely because it's primarily concerned with Ilyana and storylines that were presumably developing in New Mutants at the time. While I commend the attempt to keep strong continuity between the books, this story would probably be more at home in New Mutants. Even though it features Colossus, he's primarily there to react to what's up with Ilyana, rather than instigating things on his own.

The issue sets up the basic conundrum of how the X-Men can help the people they love if they can't even let them know they're alive, however, it undermines that conundrum by making Ilyana believe she had summoned a spirit version of Colossus. So, the entire dramatic point of the issue is rendered moot. This is another thing that Joss picked up from Claremont. Look at the episode 'Ted.' Rather than having Buffy have to deal with the fact that her desire to keep her parents together led to her accidentally killing her mother's boyfriend, they undermine the consequences by having him be a robot. So, the character goes through the emotional experience, but it feels like an emotional cheat because of what we find out later. That's what this issue feels like, an emotional cheat for Ilyana. However, there is some fun stuff in it, most notably Colossus' attempts to act llike a ghost, and I'd imagine that this sets up stuff that will come to a head in Inferno.

The next chunk of issues is concerned with the brood. The original brood storyline while a bit nonsensical set up almost all the issues from the brilliant Paul Smith era. This time, rather than aping Alien, Claremont does a riff on zombie movies, with the X-Men battling the alien among us. I don't think this storyline is particularly successful. It goes over the same territory as the previous story with the brood, i.e. is it ethical to kill them? And Havok goes through the same trauma that Storm did back then.

On the whole, the storyline is just a bunch of events without any really strong character relevance until the end. I did like in the last issue how Claremont upended the intolerant preacher cliche and instead had a preacher's faith rejuvenated through the intervention of the X-Men. There was a very cool moment where Wolverine erupts from under the stage and proceeds to kill a brood, along with a great cheesy line, something like "Ben Franklin said there's only two things certain in life...and this ain't taxes." Brilliant. The ideological conflict Wolverine and Storm have over killing is interesting, and one of the few dividers in their otherwise mutuallly respectful relationship.

The Genosha storyline follows next. Genosha has gone on from these humble beginnings to become a crucial part of X-mythology. They've seriously just been redoing Claremont's stuff for fifteen years now, even Claremont himself is. In this era, he's throwing out a bunch of incredible concepts each issue, that sense of constant invention is part of what makes the book such interesting reading. Anyway, the Genosha stuff has a mystery structure and it takes a while for things to really start up. Like the brood, this storyline is bogged down in a bit too much exposition. It takes a while to get to the real meat of things, though the payoff in the last issue is strong.

The most interesting stuff going on through all these issues is with Maddy Pryor. I think in every one of these reviews I've talked about how she's my favorite character, and that's definitely the case in this bunch of issues. Infuriated by Scott leaving her, Maddy apparently strikes a bargain with a demon to help her find her son. I really liked the dream sequence she has, where Scott takes her apart to rebuild Jean Grey. On a story level, it works great, but it's also a nice meta commentary on what's happened to the character. That's actually a big part of what's cool about the character, she had this storyline starting, but then editorial came along and brought back Jean Grey, abandoning her just like Scott does in the actual book. It's basically indefensible what he does, and if you separate editorial mandate from things, the character should really be punished for the awful choices he made. Luckily, this aspect of the character is finally addressed in Morrison's run, which takes the character in a really interesting direction.

Besides Maddy, the storyline is bit heavy handed with its mutant as slave allegory. The concepts are cool, but as played out, it's a bit too preachy, particularly in the father son conflict with the genegineer. The thing I do like is the ambiguity at the end. The X-Men may have won their battle, but they basically acknowledge that this place is not going to heal easy. It's deeply screwed up and a little victory can't heal it.

Across this chunk of issues, I noticed a lot more pointless captioning from Claremont. During the Paul Smith era, he seemed to check a lot of the exposition, but it's been coming back. I think part of it was editorial mandate, but do we really need to hear it mentioned in every issue that Wolverine has an adamantium skeleton. And too often he introduces the characters and their powers, you should be able to figure them out from what's going on in the action.

So, after a bit of drift, things come back on track with issue 239, the issue that marks the start of the Inferno crossover. I got the Inferno TPB a long time ago, like six or seven years, and read it then, but I don't remember much of it, and at the time I remember being very confused. So, it's still basically new to me. Inferno was apparently designed to be the crossover to end all crossovers, to wipe the slate clean, so things could move forward in the X books. With 239, we see the return of Mister Sinister, a cool looking villain who seems quite menacing. The issue is framed by Sinister playing with statues of the X-Men, lamenting the fact that now that they're dead he'll never have the chance to find these potential worthy opponents.

This issue marks a return to some of Claremont's greatest strengths, with a largely character and relationship based issue. Here, Storm finds out that Jean Grey is alive, prompting to rage at Wolverine who has now for a long time, but didn't tell anyone. I find it a bit ridiculous that they would never have heard about X-Factor and made the connection between that team and the original X-Men. However, it still makes for a good scene when Storm flies Wolverine into the sky and drops him down.

The best part of the issue is Madelyne Pryor and Havok. It makes a lot of sense for these two to come together, both were rejected by people they loved, and they each have a sense of inferiority, that they are the replacements for Scott and Jean rather than legitimate people in their own right. It's got so much twisted potential, particularly when these two meet up with Scott. He'll obviously be furious, but at the same time what right does he have to dictate what Madelyne does considering how he betrayed her. The writing when the two of them finally get together is really strong, both of them know what they're doing is wrong, but they do it anyway.

And on top of that there's some fun stuff with Dazzler and Longshot, who go out to a bar and generally have fun together. Claremont's strength is never in plot based storytelling. Anyone can string together a bunch of events, but he is at his best when he's creating character conflicts and letting them play out. I love the way that these basic relationship conflicts are amplified by the superpowers involved. It's the same thing with Buffy, using the superpowers to turn emotional conflict into earth threatening crisis. So, Madelyne's desire to get her son back doesn't just lead to her going slightly crazy, it turns her into a dark-powered being on a perilous quest for vengeance, a vengeance that will apparently culminate in Inferno.

Judging from the letter columns and promotional stuff in the books, Inferno was heavily hyped, so it would make sense that the previous issues sort of meander along, leading us there. However, if 239 is any indication, Inferno should bring the book back to Claremont's strengths. I'm excited to see how things turn out.

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