Monday, November 5, 2018

...In The Heat Of Battle!

In 1978, the mutant known as Mesmero successfully carried out a petty scheme which targeted the X-Men--suppressing their memories and forcing them to assume lives as members of a circus troupe. Thanks to Wolverine, who helped his comrades throw off Mesmero's control, the X-Men were on the verge of confronting their foe, when they discovered that someone had beaten them to it.

Capturing the X-Men (and subsequently dealing with Mesmero), Magneto brought the team to his complex hidden beneath a live volcano in the frozen Antarctic wasteland, where he ended the modicum of civility he'd exercised on their journey and began an all-out attack against them.

Its final moments went something like this:

Cyclops is a fine one to talk about coordination and strategy--with the exception of a single optic blast fired at the beginning of the fight, he was virtually missing in action while his team made their uncoordinated attempts to stop Magneto. How about leading your team, sport?

Following his victory lap, Magneto initiates his ultimate plan of revenge against his oldest foes--a living death from which there is no hope of escape.

Which sets the stage for the following issue, and Round Two--taking place in at the bottom of the world far beneath the surface, where no one even realizes that the X-Men are engaged in a struggle for their lives. It would become what many regard as one of the most memorable and classic battles in Marvel's history to this point--and while the issue's cover appears to have already declared the victor, there's also a strong indication that no one may make it out of this fight alive.

Since regaining his full power after a humiliating defeat suffered during his disastrous plan involving the mutant Alpha, Magneto returns in the pages of X-Men in a sharp pivot from the snarling, two-dimensional power-mad villain profile he'd developed over the years since his debut in 1963, emerging in writer Chris Claremont's hands as a more thoughtful, careful, and dangerous man while losing none of his ambition or desire for supremacy over the human race. As his current plans take shape, it only makes sense for his first order of business to be eliminating the X-Men as a potential threat--though as an indication of how much enmity he holds toward them, he does so with a twist that keeps them alive but immobile and absolutely helpless as a way of striking back at Charles Xavier for his part in the Alpha affair. As confident as Magneto now comes across, it's unclear why he hasn't gone after Xavier himself; perhaps he considers the actions he's taken toward those Xavier cares for the most to be sufficient revenge, at least for now.

With his victory complete, Magneto returns to his orbiting asteroid base, where he coordinates his efforts on the surface which thus far have resulted in a number of raids on government research facilities in the Pacific southeast. And the X-Men? Life, such as it has become for them, goes on, in what is now a never-ending nightmare of stagnant captivity in the care of their robot "nanny."

But despite the precautions Magneto has taken, and the scrutiny of his mobile caretaker, the backgrounds of their prisoners haven't been completely taken into account--for instance, that of Storm, who was taken in as an urchin following the deaths of her parents and brought up as a thief in Cairo by her mentor, Achmed El-Gíbar. The lessons of that life stayed with Ororo even after being trained as an X-Man--as did a few other essentials from her time with Achmed.

Due to a mishap, Ororo unfortunately does have to go back to square one. Frankly, however, the amount of composure she demonstrates here is surprising, given the circumstances of her imprisonment. As a claustrophobe, Ororo is afflicted with an extreme fear of confined places--and these prison chairs, which prevent movement of any kind below the neck and which the X-Men are locked into for life, are as confining as confined gets; yet while understandably as frustrated as her teammates over their collective fate, Ororo endures this treatment without suffering any apparent ill effects related to her phobia whatsoever.

As for whether Ororo's efforts meet with success, let's turn our attention to Asteroid M, where Magneto receives a puzzling indication of trouble at his Antarctic complex.

As vital as Magneto considers this base to be, it would seem to make little sense to construct it beneath a volcano that is neither extinct nor even dormant. The only upside to that decision is that the base is effectively isolated, which is perhaps important to Magneto's plans; but a more sane mind might have ruled out such a location, since Mother Nature will occasionally (and unexpectedly) make one regret taking such a risk with a critical installation. Obviously Magneto considers the danger to be minimal, while the X-Men have no choice but to hope that Magneto knew what he was doing--indeed, they can do little else.

But upon descending to his pitch-dark complex, Magneto realizes that the X-Men have been anything but idle.

Believe it or not--and it really is incredible, in light of his position and the stakes involved--you've seen the first and last of Cyclops' physical participation in this battle. Just as before, he stays on the sidelines, though this time having arranged to coordinate his team telepathically--this despite having a great deal of experience leading both old and new X-Men teams actively in the field, where he never had that luxury. In all fairness, his change in posture may be a necessity here, adapting to the battle taking place in near-total darkness.

But when all is said and done, your mileage may vary as far as this battle rating as one of the X-Men's finest. Cyclops' strategy is for the X-Men to use hit-and-run tactics, which don't allow Magneto the opportunity to strike back--so there is no "teamwork" playing out to any extent, a style of combat which all of those training sessions in the X-Men's Danger Room were meant to ingrain in them. Ideally, Cyclops' role as leader is really to make decisive calls based on how the battle is going--while, in the midst of combat, the X-Men have to be able to fall back on the training they've had to work as a team. We saw none of that on display in Round One, with Magneto successfully taking them out one by one (Cyclops included) and all but saying "Next?" following each foe's defeat--whereas in Round Two we mainly have a rotation of strikes made from each X-Man, until Colossus disregards orders and takes things up a notch.

Wait--isn't Storm's tactic backwards? In a less humid environment you usually feel more vigorous and energetic; but if you want someone to sweat and have more difficulty catching a breath, wouldn't you raise the humidity? And if Cyke is thinking along the lines of dehydration, the body can become dehydrated from sweating due to extreme or prolonged heat, yes, but not through any reduction of humidity on Storm's part. And good grief, Magneto--what effect do you think the punches of a man of flesh and blood with average strength are going to have against an opponent made of steel?

At any rate, it's gratifying to see Cyclops making an appearance again. Too bad all that optic power has to stay corked up, though. Oh, that's right, IT DOESN'T.

The battle over for all intents and purposes, the situation for both the X-Men and Magneto has become critical--in fact it's surprising that Magneto chose to hold Round One in the same location, given the same risk of damage to the base's equipment that was likely to occur during an all-out battle between himself and the X-Men. Regardless, Magneto takes advantage of the confusion brilliantly--throwing the equivalent of a psychological anvil at Cyclops (who is obviously at a loss to act) and thereby gaining for himself precious moments to devise a way to salvage himself from his foes' custody and turn this crisis to his benefit.

As for the X-Men, Nightcrawler's suggestion for escape might have had some merit, if the team had beaten Magneto to the extent it appeared--but with a simple distraction, he proves otherwise, and, moving quickly to escape while they begin to scatter, he all but assures himself of their imminent deaths. His base, of course, meets the same fate, as Magneto sees its dangerous proximity to a live volcano shift its chance of destruction from a calculated risk to harsh reality.

And so Magneto lives to fight another day, though he expects it will take months to heal from his injuries. Yet he's satisfied by the knowledge that when he resumes his plans and moves to conquer the human race, there will be no further interference from the X-Men.

And he may well be right--because what survivors there are may have only prolonged their doom for perhaps minutes at best.


At the time of this issue's story, with X-Men having recently shifted to monthly publication and its cover price due to go up a nickel in just a few months, the mag is too valuable a commodity to have its principal characters perish--so it probably goes without saying that if there's anyone who could escape certain death even under these circumstances, it would be the X-Men. Consequently, it's only fair to provide a few visual glimpses that reveal the aftermath of their Antarctic struggle and give you an idea of the plotting that the book takes for the next few issues.

We might as well start with the Beast and Phoenix, whose outlook while in danger of exposure from a blizzard in the middle of nowhere looked grim--and to make matters worse, the next issue's cover has virtually slammed the coffin lid on the friends they left behind.

We, on the other hand, are more optimistic, after learning not only how the other X-Men survived but also where they ended up.

While poor Cyclops, who admittedly received the blunt end of the PPC review of the issue, takes stock of the battle, and of himself.

As for Xavier, Lilandra has convinced him that with the X-Men gone, he has no reason to continue as he has, or even remain on Earth. And so he departs the planet of his birth for the woman he loves.

And on we go.

Uncanny X-Men #113

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Annette Kawecki


Big Murr said...

As I've commented repeatedly, ad nauseum, (and probably in some earlier comment on this blog), the X-Men's "teamwork" was quite overrated. I can't guess the countless pages given to us for our hard-earned money watching the X-Men train in the Danger Room. Nothing to do with the plot, just...wasting our time, pretty much. And yet, in battle after battle, they almost never showed any particular teamwork skills gained from all that training.

I think a live volcano is a perfect super villain choice. Nobody is going to casually discover the place. Kilotonnes (or is liquid magma measured in litres?) of molten rock would shield the base from any conceivable satellite sensor. The X-Men needed every power, skill and huge luck to escape the base. Breaking into it wouldn't have been much easier. X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four...they all would have to pause and think a moment about how to get into the place. Certainly no human military or SHIELD would have a chance. Asteroid M in orbit is like a pup tent in comparison.

And, like all home owners, any super villain really likes to have that "WOW" factor.

My biggest eyebrow raise at the time of first reading this story, and still today, is that "Nanny" is the sole caretaker for this giant base. As the babysitter for the prisoners, sure. But sole maintenance for that small city of a place? That's silly.

Picking of nits aside, that was the Golden Days of the X-Men for me. Story and art getting solid A's issue after issue.

Tiboldt said...

I hate to bring it up but one of the most disconcerting aspects of the Nanny scenario would be the toilet facilities, which were presumably built into the chairs. I assume that Nanny would be on hand to clean up and put cream on to prevent nappy rash. Very degrading, especially if the rest of the team are there, watching.

It was a good thing they were able to find their trousers for the rematch.

By the way, you didn't mention the guest appearance by George Pérez, or rather Jorge Pérez, a pilot in an unspecified South American air force.

Comicsfan said...

I know what you mean about the "wow" factor, Murray--I, myself, would like to have my own Asteroid M... er, CF, though recently I've had my eye on Asteroid Oumuamua. As for Nanny, I imagine one of her (!) strengths is being able to tie in with the base's systems and run diagnostics in order to locate and facilitate any needed repair work, rather than make routine (and lengthy) rounds through the complex.

As for our poor flyboys, Tiboldt, they seemed intent on putting this experience behind them and forgetting it ever happened, so it felt appropriate to avoid mentioning their names here for the record.

Haydn said...

Tiboldt, I remarked on the Perez cameo on the Supermegamonkey chronocomic site a few years ago. Delighted that someone else spotted that easter egg!

Incidentally, I looked up "Tirador" recently (Perez's co-pilot in that scene): it's Spanish for "Shooter," as in Marvel's newly-crowned Editor-in-Chief. So Claremont (and/or Byrne) were having some fun at the expense of a couple of well-known coworkers!

Tiboldt said...

Haydn, you beauty! I assumed at the time that Tirador meant something but I didn't know what - maybe some inside joke that I wasn't aware of.

Thank you for clearing up, what to me at least, is a 40(?) year-old mystery.

dangermash said...

There was only one team in Marvel Comics that genuinely worked as a team, exceeding the sum of its parts and all that, and that was The Enforcers in ASM #10, #14 and #19.

James MacKay said...

That page where Jean tells Professor X of the X-men's apparent death is heart-rending. Is this the first time one of the original five "Gifted Youngsters" called him by his first name? I suspect so.

Comicsfan said...

You may be right, James!

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