Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Pursuit And The Plight!


OR: "My Ship's Bigger Than Your Ship"

Wow! The last time we checked in on the X-Men, they'd been in pitched battle against the Shi'ar renegade, Deathbird, as well as Deathbird's allies, the deadly species known as the Brood. By the time the battle was over, our heroes had suffered considerable losses. Not only had they failed to recover Deathbird's captive, Lilanda, taken as part of a power play by Deathbird and her associates--but Charles Xavier was also captured. And when the dust settles, the X-Men find that one of their own has become a casualty:



Understandably, the X-Men are now gunning for Deathbird--with the Earth only hours away from a Shi'ar deadline that demands that either Lilandra be recovered, or the Earth pays the price. Given their setbacks thus far, will the X-Men be able to pull themselves together in time to avert disaster?



Despite Wolverine's state of mind here, as well as this issue's escalation of hostilities between these groups, Logan will be mostly in the background in this third part of our story--which is curious, since he would seem to be the ideal choice to face Deathbird in the team's next encounter with her. Instead, the story will build on what we've already seen, and focus on Corsair's comrades-in-arms, the Starjammers, as they join forces with the X-Men in order to track down Deathbird and liberate both Lilandra and Xavier. As disappointing as Wolverine's reduced presence in the story is, it's not necessarily bad for either the story or the book itself. By 1982, Wolverine has become an immensely popular character in Uncanny X-Men, thanks due in large part to the fact that he continues to be part of an ensemble, instead of the "star" he'd later become with his name virtually in lights on the marquee. There's still a wealth of material to be mined from the remaining members of the X-Men, particularly with Storm now in a leadership role; and while Xavier sees the potential in Wolverine as a leader, it's Storm who perhaps has more to offer in that role in terms of character growth.

But first, the team has to get its bearings and recover from this setback. Although Cyclops has detected a pulse in Colossus, he remains at death's door; also, with police officers holding the team accountable for the destruction incurred during the battle, getting them to back off is going to take some doing. Or, in this case, an Avenger:



Before the disagreement can go further, a massive starship appears over Manhattan and takes the decision out of the hands of New York's finest, as the Starjammers arrive--typically, in the nick of time. And their resources may hold the only hope for Colossus:




Meanwhile, Kitty and Nightcrawler remain aboard the Shi'ar flagship as hostages against the X-Men's cooperation. The mission commander, Admiral Lord Samédàr, gives them a grim report of how things are going on Earth so far:



Since the Shi'ar's arrival in our solar system, Samédàr has demonstrated he has little regard for the X-Men, which up until now could be attributed to his being a Shi'ar hard-liner. But in his next communiqué, we see evidence of not only Samédàr's corruption, but of his allegiance elsewhere:



Writer Chris Claremont has clearly taken the opportunity to explore the Shi'ar further with this play of Deathbird's--who, up until now, was a character not even known to be Shi'ar. Apparently this race's exposure in X-Men has been well-received, going back to the schemes of the mad emperor D'ken and of course the Shi'ar's heavy-handed involvement in the matter of the Phoenix. The story also affords Claremont the chance to bring back the Starjammers, as well as to close the circle between Cyclops and Corsair by providing the story of how the parents of Scott and his brother, Alex, had been separated from their children.





It's a beginning for these two--their relationship now on much different ground than the short time they spent as father and son, and both of them now very different men. Their experiences in battle together during this recent conflict have helped them to come to terms; but with Scott now knowing the truth, time will tell if they'll be able to find common ground. The general tone we get from Claremont is that it's headed in that direction.

Also headed forward is the Starjammers' ship, which is about to overtake Deathbird's vessel. We've already seen an impressive display of the size of the 'jammer--but now artist Dave Cockrum is about to put that in further perspective, as the hunter unfortunately becomes the hunted.




Cockrum has simply outdone himself here. This is our first look at one of the Brood's living vessels, a sentient species called the Acanti--at least they used to be sentient, until the Brood began to enslave them and adapted them for space travel by destroying their higher brain functions. With the X-Men and the Starjammers now captured, the Brood move in for the kill. But look who's made the most miraculous and speedy recovery on record:



I frankly expected bed rest for a recovering Colossus, not a clean bill of health and pointing him in the direction of a bloodthirsty army. But this is a comic book, with an alien medic tending to him--heck, it wouldn't be surprising if Colossus is sporting adamantium now. As for the Brood, either they're immensely overconfident despite the losses they suffered on Earth, or they only pack the Acanti with a small contingent of warriors--because otherwise they'd overwhelm their foes, and it looks like the X-Men and the Starjammers are doing pretty well against them. And since this is still when the X-Men refuse to take lives in their battles, it's interesting to see the back-and-forth on the subject between Storm and the more realist Starjammers--a debate where Wolverine's take would be interesting but which Claremont avoids:



The Brood, however, have the home field advantage--and while they deprive the ship of gravity in order to make their foes easy targets, another group is sent to execute Xavier and Lilandra. But Corsair and Cyclops have already split off from their comrades and are headed in that direction to free them:




Taken out by a guy relying on weightless momentum and a fist.  Maybe the Brood's reputation as ruthless, deadly warriors has been overstated.  Regardless, the rescue is successful, and everyone gets the signal to head back to the 'jammer. But Storm is otherwise engaged:



No, I have no idea how Deathbird is able to casually resist that "irresistible" torrent of outgoing air, since depressurization generally doesn't care whether or not you fly like a bird.  Fortunately, the Starjammers don't waste time thinking about it--their ship blasts free of the Acanti, and beams Storm back on board with not a second to spare.

The story is coming up on its final page, and it all feels a bit rushed, given the complete turnaround we've seen in the X-Men's fortunes while going up against what should have been enormous odds. If you'd been holding the hand Deathbird did, and if you had the allies Deathbird had, how would you explain the loss of not one but both of your valuable hostages, not to mention the recovery of two people you'd personally sent to what seemed certain death? You couldn't have wrapped up things more tidily if you'd had decorative paper and a bow.

The story has one last card to play to maintain our interest--the fate of the Earth.



You've probably noticed one discrepancy from when the Shi'ar first arrived and dictated their terms to Xavier--that they would free Lilandra by force should the X-Men fail.  It was the reason the X-Men insisted on interceding--to avoid the collateral damage caused by a Shi'ar strike.  Nothing was even mentioned about destroying the Earth--which would have accomplished nothing, even in retaliation.  It's Corsair who's been implicated in the terrorists' plot, and by now the Shi'ar have intelligence on Deathbird's involvement; nothing was ever said about anyone on Earth sharing responsibility for Lilandra's abduction. And since Lilandra is now off-world, the Shi'ar have no reason to move in.

I jokingly mentioned before that Kitty and Nightcrawler were likely to save the day for the X-Men. Please don't hurl tomatoes my way--the way this story is going, it shouldn't surprise any of us at this point.

COMING UP:  The startling conclusion!

Uncanny X-Men #156

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Dave Cockrum
Inks: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Janice Chiang

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the postings on the three part X-Men story.

Do you think that by the time they got to the end of the story, Claremont just plain forgot what type of jeopardy he had left the world in?

Cockrum's failing with the female figure really jumps up with that panel of Tigra as the X-Men and Starjammers are leaving. She seems almost child like. Just really out of Tigra character.

And could it be, like with the appearance of the Stranger, Colossus' return to health just happened that way to fit the story?

I think, in my opinion as a US American, that the one panel where Scott and his dad find the professor and Lilandra, if instead of "lad" Charles would have called him "son", imagine what Claremont could have done with that!

The Prowler (standing in the rain, with his head hung low).

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, perhaps that's the problem with this type of ending that tries to maintain momentum that wasn't really there--in this case, the Shi'ar's deadline for the X-Men to carry out their mission to retrieve Lilandra. I.e., the world wasn't really in the jeopardy that Lilandra and the others are saying it was. On the other hand, the Lord Admiral may have his own agenda in that regard--we'll have to see what happens in Part 4.

As for your points regarding Cockrum and Colossus, I'm pretty much in agreement with you. (Though Sikorsky might take issue with our quick dismissal of his skills!)

B Smith said...

This was the issue where I decided it was time for the X-Men and I to consider the parting of the ways - the story line seemed to be all over the place, with emphasis on some things and not others making it a bit of a mishmash.

First of all there was the whole "OMG Colossus is dead! Oh , wait a minute, no he isn't" while a few pages later Corsair's wife/Cyclops' mother is casually killed in a tiny little panel at the the end of the page (with her name suddenly changed to Kate).

Then there was the "character" Sikorsky - it had all the marks of cutesy Claremontism that I recall John Byrne saying drove him up the wall ("Hey, he buzzes around like a helicopter, so let's name him after one - and give him some irritating Yoda-like speech pattern, because it'll make him seem alien and cool").

And I don't know if he was rushing it, but Cockrum's art after Byrne left was never as good as before Byrne started - stiff, stock poses, pedestrian (for him) layouts.

Perhaps I got out of bed on the wrong side all those year ago, but I only stayed on another dozen issues just to see whether it would improve, and to my mind, it didn't.

Comicsfan said...

Those are fair points, B. Part One of this story gave me every impression that X-Men was still capable of interesting stories and continued improvement of its characters--but the way the story's played out so far, everything indeed seems to be "all over the place," as you note. I did enjoy the introduction of the Brood, who would of course go on to feature more prominently in the book--but why would Deathbird and her group flee with Lilandra to Earth of all places, when she has the Brood as her allies? Why make themselves vulnerable and go to a planet where the Shi'ar can thus narrow down their location? Why go to Earth at all? Why would the thinking be that Corsair is involved, when the Starjammers fought on behalf of Lilandra against D'ken? How is it that a skilled assassin like Deathbird fails to kill Peter with that strike? Why aren't the X-Men and the Starjammers all incubating Brood right about now? Did anyone see the size of that Acanti ship their little strike force invaded?

I think I'm looking forward to Part Four, only to see if it can somehow redeem the jumble and confusion this story has become. That's not exactly a good reason to plunk down change for a comic, is it?

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