Godel x Uzumeri #10: Got A Magnet In My Head (Uncanny X-Men 144-150)
Uzumeri: Welcome back to Godel x Uzumeri, and our look at Chris Claremont’s legendary run on Uncanny X-Men! It’s a long one this time: we’re taking a look at the issues directly after Byrne’s departure, culminating in a big Magneto story in issue #150. We’ll also see Man-Thing, the return of Arcade, Ororo’s bizarre admiration for totalitarian dictators, and much more!
Godel: IN THESE ISSUES: Two groups of characters make their way to #150: in Story A, Cyclops plies the high seas with new love interest, Captain Aleytys “Lee” Forrester. They join MAN-THING in battling terrible despair-themed villain D’SPAYRE, then they get shipwrecked in the Bermuda Triangle and find a MYSTERIOUS ISLAND occupied by MAGNETO!
Meanwhile, the rest of the X-Men get drawn into a three-parter against DOCTOR DOOM and ARCADE, before having a run-in with misunderstood sewer mutant CALIBAN. Finally following up on issue #113, they then head for Antarctica to investigate Magneto’s old base; they’re surprised by a rematch with their most hated foe: GAROKK! While they’re searching for Cyclops, Magneto crashes their plane, they have a showdown, and it all ends when Mags nearly kills Kitty and is overcome by his CONSCIENCE.
SUBPLOT WATCH: Everyone struggles to make Kitty feel welcome, although her youth and inexperience keep coming up. Her flirtation with Colossus continues, even as her suspicion of Nightcrawler starts winding down. (There’s a weird suggestion that Nightcrawler is subconsciously trying to get on her bad side – this goes nowhere.) Storm is still weird around Stevie. The “Wolverine is a crazed maniac” thread culminates in an annoyed Angel quitting the team. Colossus’s kid sister Illyana (a potential mutant?) is now hanging around. And…Magneto gets a backstory!
COMPLETIST WATCH: We’re skipping over Spider-Woman v1 #37-38 (Claremont), wherein Black Tom, Juggernaut, and their dupe minion Siryn (in her first appearance) frame Spider-Woman for a vibranium heist. The X-Men join in when Cerebro detects Siryn; they sort everything out, and Siryn comes back here to meet her unsuspecting father Banshee in Uncanny #148.
Obviously, there’s lots going on here. Before we get to the main stories, how about we look at 144, the fill-in Brent Anderson issue with D’Spayre?
Uzumeri: Yeah, I dunno. It introduces the Forresters, which is pretty important, but D’Spayre is a pretty boring villain, especially when it takes Scott twenty pages to go “oh… he feeds off of DESPAIR!” No fucking shit, Sherlock.
Godel: Yeah, it’s pretty hokey. I do love the plot outline: “a guy with the power to make you feel sorry for yourself is no match for Cyclops.”
Uzumeri: Dude, Cyclops is a master at feeling sorry for himself.
Godel: Exactly! D’Spayre messed with the wrong loser this time!
Uzumeri: I’d love to see him try to take on, like, a group of Cure fans in the early ’80s. D’Spayre versus Ian Curtis.
Godel: I applaud you for refraining from another Morrissey joke.
It’s also hard to get past the seriously Silver Age plotting. D’Spayre just happens to make Lee’s dad his first victim, right when Scott and Lee just happen to be in the area?
Uzumeri: And then Lee basically asks Scott to go with her for no reason.
Look, it’s pretty clear Claremont came up with the Forresters in a hurry, since, as you said before, this entire thing was originally planned to be Scott and Jean on honeymoon.
Godel: I suppose they’d still have had the (entirely off-panel!) shipwreck, which clearly should have been linked to the hurricane Storm conjures up in #145.
That said, I actually like Lee a lot. She’s less bland than Jean and straight up calls Cyclops out on his lame “I must keep everything under wraps” schtick, which sort of foreshadows the way Emma was used by Morrison and Whedon.
Claremont will use a similar scene to establish Madelyne’s cred later on. I certainly like it better than Colleen’s “I’m just the girl to make you less of a loser!”, although I guess it’s also a stupid narrative since in real life you’d hope she wouldn’t still go back to him.
Uzumeri: There was also that pretty ridiculous moment where D’Spayre makes Man-Thing feel fear, so he just lights up on fire. What the Hell does Man-Thing even fear?
Godel: FEAR ITSELF! No, literally… Fear Itself. He thinks it sounds like a really awful comic.
Uzumeri: God, I don’t blame him.
Godel: I do like Brent Anderson’s art, inked here by Joe Rubenstein. Kitty is overacting horribly, but the level of detail and strength of the faces sort of suggests an alternate reality where X-Men never got cancelled, and soldiered on as a vaguely horror-influenced Seventies Marvel Book.
Uzumeri: That’s about it for this issue, honestly. It introduces Cyclops’s new love interest, but she doesn’t act like much of one in this issue. Brent Anderson’s art is good, as it always is. Cyclops is a total dick who uses his optic beams to cheat at pool so he can look like a rough-and-ready sailor.
Godel: To be fair, he’d actually have to be good at pool to pull that off, but there’s this longstanding, vague idea of him having a mutant spatial sensitivity or something that makes him good at stuff like….well, like trick pool shots.
Uzumeri: Yeah, and it’s basically the only thing that makes Cyclops’s power remotely useful, if you ask me. It’s also revealed here (or was it always the case?) that Cyclops is powered by sunlight and his brother by cosmic rays. It’s certainly a better excuse for his eyebeams than “they’re a portal to another dimension.” God, who came up with that one?
Godel: Sure sounds like an OHOTMU editor trying to explain why the recoil from the beam doesn’t kill him. I’m pretty sure the cosmic ray stuff is all from the original Havok stories.
D’Spayre, by the way, is a Claremont/Byrne creation from Marvel Team-Up, who as you’d expect pretty much only appears in stories like this one. The less said about him the better – Claremont doesn’t have too many great villains on his resume, and this guy is definitely in the bad batch marked “ELEMENTAL FORCE OF PURE EVIL.”
Uzumeri: I don’t really get the feeling Claremont is all that interested in villainy. Half the ‘villains’ he uses end up showing their inherent nobility (Doom, Magneto), and the others are really just elemental forces to inspire conflict within the team. I guess Sabretooth is coming up at some point?
Godel: Barely – he’s mainly a member of the PURE EVIL Marauders. There are one or two great Claremont villains, but I think you’re really spot on there – he’s more interested in the X-Men as people than as superheroes, and the villains are just an obligatory part of the superheroics.
Moving on to the next stories – the big deal obviously is the return of Dave Cockrum on pencils, now inked by Rubinstein and a little bit of Bob Wiacek. For the record, Glynis Wein stays on colors, and lettering is getting passed around a bit, including Janice Chiang’s really idiosyncratic stuff in 148, where diagonal-edged panels get diagonal word balloons.
Uzumeri: Yeah, the lettering really threw me for a loop – those Tom Orzechowski letterforms have been a big part of the feel of this run so far.
Godel: Agreed – combined with Cockrum’s considerably less flashy penciling, it’s like we’ve stepped back in time a decade or so. The previous issues were such prototypical 80s comics, and these aren’t, at all.
Louise Jones is still the local editor, and Shooter is still dictating morality plays from the EIC office. Clearly the Angel vs Wolverine subplot here is Claremont’s answer to all the griping over on-panel murder.
Uzumeri: The Angel vs. Wolverine subplot is HILARIOUS in the context of current continuity.
Godel: Totally! Last month’s issue of X-Force was about Wolverine hunting down Angel to stop him from wanton killing.
Uzumeri: “I’ll NEVER be on a team with this rampaging murderer!” It’s hysterical.
Godel: I wonder if Remender will reference this. Maybe it happened in the previous X-Force book, but it got hidden under all the smeary gray violence.
Uzumeri: Following the D’Spayre issue is a three-issue arc featuring the return of Arcade, as well as what is, I think, the very first confrontation between the X-Men and Doctor Doom. Doom seems to be in a weird continuity place at this point, ruling from a castle in, uh, the Adirondacks.
Godel: The Toad, with Arcade’s help, had converted the castle into an amusement park called Toad-World in Marvel Two-In-One. Doom thus has it in for Arcade; Arcade blackmails the X-Men into helping him. You can see why Walter Simonson would later want to retcon almost every Doom appearance as being a Doombot.
Uzumeri: He also hires American schmoe mercenaries to work for him, rather than the usual loyal Latverian subjects or robots he normally has.
Godel: I like to imagine that these are all people who quit the Hellfire Club after Dark Phoenix, hoping for a little bit of peace and quiet in their work.
Anyway, this is an irksomely repetitious and atomized story: half the X-Men escape Murderworld traps, the others escape Doom “tests,” and it sort of goes through the motions.
Uzumeri: I honestly got confused halfway through and didn’t realize they were two separate areas.
Godel: There’s some clarity problems in these issues. Like, Angel gets mad because Wolverine carved up the robot Storm really heedlessly – but Angel wasn’t even there in that scene! And a lot of stuff happens off-camera – the shipwreck I mentioned, Caliban slipping away from the X-Men, and oh, that time Kitty changes into her costume in between sitting in a chair and phasing through the floor.
Maybe Cockrum was thinking of unstable molecules – Claremont covers it with a caption explaining that she keeps her costume in a secret compartment in her purse.
Uzumeri: Yeah, or when Cyclops puts on his visor in #150, and Claremont goes “from the emergency kit the X-Men brought along!”
Honestly, all of this is made up for by that totally fucking awesome panel of Magneto putting on his costume from the hanger molecule by molecule.
Godel: Claremont probably had Magneto in sandals and a bathrobe for the whole issue. And given Cockrum’s imagination, the Doom story is even lamer – it’s a waste having this guy draw claustrophobic trap rooms – bring on the space epics and freaky islands raised from the bottom of the sea!
Uzumeri: I dunno, some of Doom’s traps are pretty cool, especially the zero-G op-art one he puts Wolverine in to completely screw up his senses.
Godel: The Wolverine trap is also the one sequence where it matters that it’s this specific X-Man. We get a little vignette about Wolverine’s need to control his rages, etc. Everyone else’s is interchangeable: they have to take some to puzzle out the pattern, and then they escape. It really levels out the team.
Uzumeri: And the rollercoaster trap is just really cliched and was done better than anyone will ever do it by Jack Kirby in Forever People.
The entire thing is just very … formulaic. Not a lot of flow between scenes, and it doesn’t come together as a whole. You could probably read sections of it out of order and it would make just as much sense.
Godel: It’s the kind of dull story we were fearing when we first saw Arcade show up. They don’t even make much of the customary teaming up to take on other people’s traps.
It doesn’t help that the Murderworld Team (Havok, Banshee, et al.) are all guest stars – so they don’t have any ongoing subplots or relationships to advance here. I wonder if it was just Cockrum wanting to draw these characters, sort of like I think Angel’s joining-then-quitting story reflects Byrne liking him and Cockrum not (though I’m just guessing). We know Byrne loved the ’60s X-Men enough to do Hidden Years for twenty-two issues before it got cancelled.
Uzumeri: Yeah, but not enough to ever use Iceman, ever. This is the first time we’ve seen Bobby since Krakoa, outside of flashbacks.
Godel: You can kind of sense Claremont’s lack of interest. He fights, what, an evil robot hockey team? Snore.
Uzumeri: It turns out he’s just been at university, drinking beer for breakfast because he’s on a student meal plan and is too lazy to go to McDonald’s.
Godel: Now that’s some mutant heroism. Lot of beer in these comics really.
Uzumeri: Yeah, seriously, what the HELL is up with that?
Godel: I think it was a way of signifying Grown-Upness. But it’s almost like Iceman’s in this comic because Jim Shooter thought Wolverine made drinking beer look too cool and they needed to introduce a lamer, less exciting mutant lush.
Uzumeri: People say that comics are way more open about sex and violence these days, and I guess they are, but man, comics in the ’80s were all about getting fucked up.
Godel: So back to the Arcade thing – can I just – okay. Kitty is out with the flu. The flu. This is right after her big triumph over the demon which supposedly proved her worth. O-kay.
I do like Wolverine’s speech to Xavier about why they have to go take down Arcade. It’s one of the rare times a “take a fight to the bad guys” speech has actually made sense to me in a comic.
Uzumeri: Even if it is delivered by a hairy Canadian wearing nothing but a leather jacket. Seriously, how do they let him walk around the house like this? Is that good for Kitty?
Godel: Clearly not – but we’ll get to her fashion sense soon enough.
Uzumeri: This is also a page after that amazing scene where Beast’s like “so, uh, yeah, you’re going to fight Doctor Doom, can the Avengers help?” and Xavier’s like “No!” for no reason other than because Claremont and Cockrum don’t want to throw the Avengers into this arc.
Also, Beast must be getting really sick of being asked to break the rules by the X-Men every six issues.
Godel: Yeah, I would just start ignoring their calls. I guess this is the Silver Age “think of this as your final exam” Professor talking. You’d think the X-Men would be pretty annoyed.
Uzumeri: Xavier, so far, in this run, has just come off as a complete douchebag. It’s really astonishing how little people had to bend the character to turn him into his current super-manipulative incarnation, and how long it took for Scott to go “you know what, man? Fuck you, seriously. I’m taking over.”
Godel: Yeah, the current round of Xavier stories, especially Mike Carey’s, really face that head-on. It’s certainly more interesting than Saint Xavier, or the unsubtle Evil Xavier of Onslaught etc. He’s a guy with good ideas, who’s also been kind of an asshole, and now has to live with the weird relationships he has with his former students, now grownups with their own opinions.
Uzumeri: Speaking of weird relationships…so, this Storm/Doom thing.
I guess it kind of makes her marriage to T’challa make more sense, since he’s basically a good Doom.
Godel: Wow, yeah, good call. But it’s never really clear why she’s charmed by Doom here. She muses that he has great dinner conversation, but it’s not shown – I’d love to see Doom and Storm spend a page arguing about the state of contemporary opera or whatever.
Uzumeri: Doesn’t she kind of form a bond with Dracula later on, too? What is it with her and high-culture dicks?
Godel: Maybe it’s her background of having been worshipped as a goddess – she can empathize with them? Who knows?
The one thing I love unreservedly about the Doom story is the Doom’s relationship with Arcade: Doom is holding him prisoner until Arcade is willing to say he’s sorry; in the meantime, he doesn’t act like a prisoner at all, more as a goofy foil for Doom’s pretensions. Except of the two he’s actually way more murderous and cutthroat.
The last noteworthy thing here: Nightcrawler being thrust back into center stage, but maybe that just jumps out at me because I know about Byrne and Cockrum’s relative opinions of the character.
Uzumeri: Did Byrne actively dislike Nightcrawler, or did he just not get why Cockrum loved him so much? I mean, there’s definitely a downplaying of Wolverine here.
Godel: That Byrne interview we were quoting last time explicitly names him as “least favorite.” And suddenly, yeah, Wolverine to the background, we’re back to stories revolving around Nightcrawler’s daring acrobatics and Storm’s claustrophobia. It makes you realize how much every artist is bringing to the table, even if only Byrne was ever credited as “co-plotter.”
But Byrne’s Wolverine-Nightcrawler duo continues, and I love stuff like the bit with Robot Nanny’s head.
Uzumeri: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing that really strikes me about the run so far is how allergic Claremont was to a status quo. It must have been refreshing not knowing what was going to happen, in comparison with other books at the time especially. It really has given me the impression that nobody is safe.
Godel: And of all X-Men writers, he’s the least interested in what’s supposedly the archetypal X-Men setup: them living at the mansion and responding to new mutant alarms on Cerebro. That certainly happens, but we’ve already seen them ditch the mansion for basically a year with the Mesmero-Magneto-Savage Land-Japan-Canada string, and after the Mutant Massacre he’ll actually ditch the mansion and send them abroad permanently. This carries through to his later, much less successful stabs at the title (see. X-Treme X-Men).
Uzumeri: And we’ve been introduced to, what, two actual new mutants since the beginning of this run? Not counting the new Brotherhood?
Godel: The Siryn thing over in Spider-Woman counts, but it’s really just a plot device to justify using the X-Men as guest stars, since their sales were 250K+ and Spider-Woman was around 100K.
Another distinctive thing: he loves putting the X-Men in Manhattan as opposed to sleepy suburban Westchester. See #148, the little Caliban one-shot. Caliban is another new mutant, but he finds them with some sort of instinctive mutant-sense – no Cerebro.
Uzumeri: This is before the Morlocks were a Thing, right? So Caliban’s just been alone his whole life? I guess he’s the first horrifically disfigured mutant we’ve seen, aside from maybe Nightcrawler.
Godel: Or maybe someone like Toad or the Blob – there have been unpleasant-looking mutants before, but this story really puts it center stage. Caliban is drawn to other members of his own kind, but they’re so separated in terms of class and social conditioning that there’s almost no common ground. It’s weirdly similar to the (bad) Warren Ellis story a couple of years ago with Kaga, the deformed mutant who resented the X-Men’s comfort in their own celebrity.
It doesn’t take much to read this as a gay allegory about “passing.” Caliban lives in a sewer; the X-Men sip cocktails in penthouses, surrounded by those who might hate and fear them, but don’t since nobody knows. Secret identities, folks.
Uzumeri: Yeah, he basically comes out of solitude for the first time and is immediately confronted with the concept of race traitors. The sense of betrayal he felt is palpable, and incredibly understandable.
Godel: It gets dressed up in the usual “misunderstanding leads to superhero fight” deal, but the basic concept is actually really striking. I’m not saying it’s a great story – it’s undercooked, maybe shortchanged in the page count versus the subplots – and Spider-Woman does nothing. But it picks up the prejudice theme without any Sentinels or torch-wielding mobs.
Uzumeri: It’s also the first issue so far where Cockrum really gets to let loose, though, thanks to Magneto’s formerly-underwater city.
Did they EVER explain where the fuck this city came from? With the squid people and the nautilus shells and shit, it almost looks like it’s the same civilization as the Old Atlantis people in Hickman’s FF, although I can’t imagine that’s the case.
Godel: If I remember right, it SORT of gets resolved a few issues down the line, or at least there’s enough to hang an explanation on.
Uzumeri: It’s a hell of a thing to drop out of nowhere, this ancient squid temple in the Bermuda Triangle, complete with ridiculous outfits for Cyclops and Lee to wear.
Godel: The outfits are amazing, right up there with the George Perez designs in that annual. Actually, this is really close to Cyclops’s look in that comic.
Uzumeri: It actually reminded me a lot of Corsair.
Godel: Maybe he should grow that mustache. I do love it when he gets the visor back on – you can imagine him keeping this as his actual costume for a few issues.
But yeah, it’s a great, over-the-top super secret base, and you can see Cockrum having tons of fun with it. Plus I love the slow burn of them washing up there, thinking Magneto doesn’t recognize Scott, and then he’s just casually like “oh, by the way, Cyclops”…
Uzumeri: Oh man, yeah! That’s a great little reveal, and Magneto plays his hand so casually. #149 also has Kitty debuting the ugliest fucking costume in the history of superhero comics, and congratulations to Dave Cockrum on realizing the somewhat difficult mandate of designing the worst possible costume. It’s like, “I want this thing to give epileptics seizures despite not moving.”
Godel: As the letter column in #156 explains:
Poor Dave. He’s been taking the rap for Kitty’s disco costume for months. And the horrible irony is, it’s awful because we wanted it to be awful. We were making a character statement about the kid – she can’t design costumes. Yet. However, she’ll keep trying till she gets it right.
It is an amazingly bad costume. Given Dave’s status as the master of costume design, it’s just brilliantly awful. The last rimshot is the rollerskates, which, as everyone keeps pointing out, are horribly impractical. Kitty admits to copping them from Dazzler, making them basically a diss on the Dazzler design.
Uzumeri: Rollerskates, knee-high purple-and-white socks, a shiny golden underlayer with green boyshorts, what looks like a tie-dye Winger wifebeater…
Godel: And a purple Marvel Girl mask. Really, Kitty’s costume is a much more terrifying threat to the X-Men than the disfigured and oafish new version of Garokk.
Uzumeri: Dave Cockrum and Glynis Wein, take a fucking bow. Meanwhile, Xavier is SUCH A DICK to Kitty. Especially since I don’t recall the rest of the new team ever graduating.
Godel: Well, they were never really “students” in the sense that the original X-Men were…they’ve had what, two scenes where Professor X is directing them in the Danger Room. They all joined as adults, more or less.
Uzumeri: Yeah, but they presumably still have things to learn about how to control their mutant powers. Also, I’m pretty sure Colossus is a minor.
Godel: And we only saw Nightcrawler turn 21 in the Inferno story. But they didn’t sign up as students, they signed up as X-Men.
Your whole beef with Kitty today is that she’s become this Jiminy Cricket of the X-Men; she does no wrong and has no storyline to advance. Here she’s a different sort of stock character – the bumbling newbie stowaway who wants to prove herself. It has its own pitfalls, but it’s a proven formula for winning over readers. There’s a really sweet letter in 154, for example, from a short thirteen-year-old named Ryan Scott, also from Kitty’s home town of Deerfield, who self-deprecatingly but urgently suggests that they add a new character: a short 13-year-old from Deerfield named Ryan, who would be Kitty’s boyfriend.
Uzumeri: Kitty’s a necessary part of the formula here. If she weren’t around, everyone else would be hyper-competent and things would be kind of boring. The problem is that once she GETS competent, you hit a dead end – it’s the Dick Grayson Problem.
Godel: Honestly, I think Claremont sort of senses this, because once he runs out of good mistakes for her to make, he basically writes her out of the cast. He picks her up again in Excalibur, but filling a different role.
Uzumeri: Kitty doesn’t have any sort of inherent weakness other than her inexperience. Wolverine has his berserker rage, Storm has her claustrophobia, Nightcrawler’s a freak…
Kitty now is a hot, smart, physically fit woman in full control of her powers with perfect mental health and unflappable morality. Everyone in the entire Marvel Universe loves her, even the villains. She has, like, zero enemies.
Godel: You know, a great use of Kitty would be to actually make her kind of a snob for that reason. Like, she’d be the perfect character to do these “passing” stories with – the well-off mutant who has it all. No surprise that Caliban kidnaps her! The problem is you’re up against thirty years of stories that show her having a heart of gold and an empathy for all living souls.
Uzumeri: Yeah, she’s the reader identification character, too. She isn’t that anymore at all, now that’s a role relegated to… fuck, I have no idea who. Conspicuously, as Kitty’s aged, they’ve replaced her with a string of substitute Kittys.
Godel: Jubilee being the classic one.
Uzumeri: And now Armor, even though Armor is frankly super, super, super boring, even when Whedon wrote her.
Godel: Armor has really never clicked for me. Daniel Way is desperately trying to develop a story for her in Astonishing, but basically she’s been a sassy version of the Reader Identification Female since minute one.
So! The Garokk story!
It’s…not as bad as the last Garokk story I guess. The real menace here is the spooky old dark base (which I wish the inks and colors played up more), and the X-Men’s uncertainty about Magneto’s return and so on.
Uzumeri: Yeah, and Garokk looks cooler now that he’s half rock for some unexplained reason.
Godel: I assume he got melted? Lava? It’s a way better design, even if his powers are still vague and his motivation thin. Whatever, it’s a one-off, and with the cuts back to Lee and Scott on Magneto Island it really does feel like there’s some momentum building towards the big double-size issue. And #150 is a story that everyone who’s ever written about this run identifies as pivotal.
Uzumeri: A double-sized #150 featuring the fall of Magneto? Why, where have I seen that before?!
Godel: Ha! But really – by giving Magneto an actual coherent motivation (he survived Auschwitz and saw the assimilationist Jews of Europe murdered in the millions), it really beefs up the book’s conceptual toolkit. The X-Men are the ones holding out hope that Magneto’s fairly convincing version of events (where mutants are doomed to extermination) is wrong. But we’ve just seen in DOFP that the X-Men could be totally wrong – so their hope is maybe heroic, or maybe just stupid. As POB puts it, “[the] backdrop of anti-mutant hatred made it disturbingly plausible that he was right. In other words, Magneto works because he provides a rival viewpoint.”
Some of that that had been around, sort of, since the Lee/Kirby stories. But bringing the Holocaust in, which risks being dollar-store gravitas, makes Magneto as concerned about protecting mutants as he is about ruling the world. And it gives the book a core concept that no other super-team has.
Uzumeri: What’s great is that, like, two issues before this, Xavier is saying that he has no idea what Magneto’s real identity is. Which doesn’t make any fucking sense at all, even with Claremont’s later stuff.
Godel: Yeah, that gets retconned out almost immediately; the first Magneto/Xavier flashback is less than a year away.
But how does #150 work as a story?
Uzumeri: It works incredibly well. #150 is a nearly perfect superhero comic.
There are so many fantastic individual moments – Storm hesitating from slitting Magneto’s throat (what is it with her and totalitarians?!), the psychic duel with Xavier that ends in Magneto just strapping him in and flying him to the island so he loses his powers, Magneto’s yelling at Scott that he doesn’t understand grief and the revelation of his backstory… all couched in a bunch of genuinely cool action setpieces.
Godel: Also: the X-Men washing up half-drowned in the middle of the night, such a scrappy, punk arrival. Or the whole thing with them disabling Magneto’s machine, without their powers, while he’s asleep. It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk.
Uzumeri: Or that great panel where Lee and Scott are making out just as Magneto shoots down the Blackbird, and they don’t even notice.
And we haven’t even gotten to Magneto’s freak-out when he hurts Kitty.
Godel: Yeah, which unfortunately is maybe the one thing here that doesn’t entirely click – at least, it feels a little rushed.
I get that the idea is him being shocked into a rude awakening, but for how important it is, you sort of wish the panel of him zapping Kitty was at least a half-splash, to give it a little more sense of weight and importance. If you glanced past the caption you might not realize what he’d even done.
Uzumeri: It’s also then conveniently explained that it didn’t hurt her because she phased through it, which doesn’t make much sense.
Godel: Her phasing powers are still a little up for grabs; it just got stated that she’s not entirely intangible, which is why she can walk on air or be tossed around by Storm’s winds.
But the sequence clicks because the conversation with Storm, despite Magneto’s melodrama, actually does feel true to both of the characters. If Wolverine or Cyclops had been the one to find them there, it wouldn’t have played out this way.
Uzumeri: If Wolverine had found him there, Magneto would not have a head.
Godel: It has to be Storm, the one who’s killed once and has sworn never to do it again (as set up earlier in the issue), who can actually comprehend what Magneto is going through.
The other tricky thing is that Magneto’s initial sin is so enormous; he doesn’t just murder the submarine crew, he demolishes a city (with captions explaining that everybody got out in time). It’s a rough place from which to start a redemption arc. I guess that’s the point, but still.
Uzumeri: Yeah. I never bought into the MLK/Malcolm X comparison with regards to Xavier and Magneto, largely because I don’t remember Malcolm X ever organizing terrorist acts.
Godel: It’s just sort of a convenient shorthand, based on flimsy pop-cultural narratives of the Civil Rights era. I get the point of the comparison, but it just doesn’t square with the deeds of the characters. Which I guess is what Planet X is all about, but we’ve sort of touched on that before.
Uzumeri: So yeah – some good issues leading up to it, but Uncanny X-Men #150 is just a crackerjack comic.
Godel: I’m glad you dug it, man, this is one of those that I have a hard time seeing clearly through all of its Pivotal Significance. It’s certainly one of the first back issues I ever bought.
Uzumeri: That said: I think it could have been even better if we’d also had the Jean/Magneto thing you mentioned earlier in it.
Godel: I wonder! It would certainly be a different story, more explicitly about the abuse of power. This version of the X-Men have nobody but Storm who approaches Magneto’s level, and they just did the Dark Storm thing during the Doom/Arcade arc. So instead of being about Jean’s reasons for doing what she does, it’s more about Magneto and his reasons for doing what he does.
Which goes back to our discussion of villains earlier – Magneto is the one uncategorically brilliant Claremont villain, and it’s because from this point on he writes him like he writes the heroes, not like a villain at all.
Uzumeri: I don’t know, I think the Jean and Magneto themes would have intertwined really well. Magneto have been confronted not only with hurting a child, but also with the idea of a powerful mutant who’d rather be human. Both of those would completely shatter his worldview.
Godel: That’s a really interesting idea! You can also imagine it picking up the Caliban thing then, either with Caliban being used as a weak mutant (who’d rather be human), or as Magneto’s evidence for how the world mistreats his people, etc.
Uzumeri: Honestly, I realize the Dark Phoenix Saga is famous, but I really think Claremont’s original plan would have worked far better. Jean still would have made that same choice.
Godel: We certainly might have been spared things like the blatant filler of the funeral issue, and as you say the Lee plot might seem more organic if it was Scott and Jean on honeymoon rather than Scott wandering the world to forget his grief. It still works as printed, but it feels less continuous, and the little stories along the way (like “Rogue Storm”) feel like retreads, rather than episodes sustaining the overall theme.
Uzumeri: There’s also the fact that Magneto’s relationship with power is somewhat similar to Dark Phoenix’s, except that his is by choice. He really CHOOSES to abuse his power. It’d have been a different story, but I think it’d have made it stronger.
Godel: But rather than it being him drunk on his power, it’s due to something that he’s at least rationalized as being for good reasons. To be fair, the description of the mega-plot that “would have been” is also from a couple of years after the fact.
Uzumeri: It kind of ties in with that Prelude to Schism issue which posited Magneto as a fundamentally powerless kid who, when he discovered he had power, just kind of went crazy.
Godel: Picking up from the Magneto: Testament mini from a while back. Which I say just because I don’t want to give any credit to Prelude to Schism. That whole version of Magneto is interesting, not least because it suggests a new metaphor about Israeli foreign policy) that no one at Marvel would ever go near.
Magneto, at his best, reminds me a lot of Ebert’s review of Life Is Beautiful: “If he had a gun, he would shoot at the Fascists. If he had an army, he would destroy them.” Magneto is the guy who does have the power, but too late. You can say he’s wrong to take revenge on his tormentors, but you can’t necessarily say you wouldn’t do the same in his position.
And Claremont makes that up completely out of thin air! He takes a guy who’d been the X-Men’s arch-enemy for twenty years, based on being their issue #1 villain, and turns him into a compelling thematic opponent. It’s like if someone figured out a reason why the Mole Man was the fundamental opposite number of what the Fantastic Four stand for, enough that he made Mr. Fantastic doubt his entire enterprise. The word “masterstroke” gets tossed around a lot in criticism but I really think this counts – just a few lines of dialogue and he’s moving mountains here.
Uzumeri: That’s a pretty great summation of what Claremont pulls off. It’s difficult to process what a hugely transformative issue this was, largely because it’s so hard for me to imagine a Magneto without the Holocaust origin.
Godel: It probably even enlivened the previous stories we’ve seen with Magneto – we only saw him raving megalomaniacally, but we knew that he was the Holocaust survivor with a vision for a mutant future, and it made the comics read better. To this day, even a bad present-day Magneto story gets a boost from that. Ian McKellan didn’t hurt either.
Uzumeri: He’s a fully-realized character, more than any other villain in comics. Doom is about on par, and Luthor for sure.
Godel: Magneto also benefits from having changed sides a couple of times along the way – it overburdens his character horribly, but it also gives him a lot of on-panel life experiences that flesh him out. We’ve seen him in jeans and a t-shirt, doing everyday stuff, dealing with complicated character situations that you never see from the likes of Kang.
Uzumeri: With Luthor, you get that every time they flash back to him and Clark in Smallville High. And as we’ll see from Morrison, he has an altruistic streak that, at times, he just can’t shake, as much as he tries to make selfish excuses for it.
Godel: Which is why his Superman hatred is so fabulous – but we’ll come to that.
Uzumeri: So yeah, readers, I think it’s safe to say that we both thought Uncanny #150 was an absolutely tremendous work.
Godel: You wish all double-sized issues could be so good. They even find room for a comedy shoutout to The Empire Strikes Back!
Uzumeri: OK, I wanted to punch him in the face for that.
Godel: Come on! It’s corny (you picture it freezing on the last panel, with the credits and laugh track rolling by) but I love the panel where Kitty is straight-facedly pretending to use the Force and everyone buys it for a second. It’s cute!
Uzumeri: The best part is everyone shitting themselves because they think Kitty might be a Jean-level telekinetic, heralding the return of Dark Phoenix.
Godel: And that’s that!
Unfortunately, we have a little bit of a sabbatical coming up, with summer teaching taking over my life for the next six weeks. If you’re enjoying these, I urge you to subscribe to our RSS feed so we’ll drop right into your reader when we return. In late July: the RETURN OF THE WHITE QUEEN! the debut of ROGUE! And… well, Arkon is back. Not to mention our continuing Grant Morrison coverage, with our first look at Flash! See you then, and thanks for reading.