Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Final Battle With Mutant X!

Having confronted the X-Men and lived to tell the tale, the mutant known as Proteus now rampages through the streets of Edinburgh, using his power over reality to throw the city into chaos. Proteus, now in possession of a new host body--the corpse of his father, Joe MacTaggert--holds Joe's wife Moira hostage in order to prevent the X-Men from interfering with him; and in taking his father as a host, Proteus possesses all of Joe's memories, including the contempt he held for Moira as well as a tendency to take what he wants. As a result, the X-Men face a more ruthless, more driven foe who is now drunk with power and a sense of superiority over the human race.

For now, the X-Men can only engage in damage control, pitching in and helping those people who are victims of the shifting landscapes that Proteus has set in motion. As for Moira, try though she may to reach through to her son, Proteus is now as Cyclops has judged him to be: one of the most evil of evil mutants that the X-Men were created to battle and protect humanity against. In a way, writer Chris Claremont has enabled that label of evil and our perception that Proteus, now a callous murderer, is beyond redemption, thanks to a very strange omission throughout this story--the fact that, unlike the rest of his family, Proteus is never referred to by his birth name. Instead, he's been known by the name displayed forebodingly on his cell door on Muir Isle: "Mutant X," a name even Moria hasn't been allowed to move beyond. You're not exactly going to have the disposition of Wally Cleaver if your own mother refers to you by a lab label--nor does Moria seem conflicted about it. As Moira herself observed, "It was too late [for him] the day he was born."

As a result, and despite Claremont's efforts to establish a painful conflict within Moira involving her feelings for her son vs. her acknowledgment of his nature, it's been difficult to truly see Moira in the role of this boy's mother, particularly given how easily she seems to be able to avoid using his name--and surely she had to have given her son a name, right? How else would she have addressed him whenever she checked in on him? "Good morning, Mutant X, beautiful day outside--how did you sleep?" Yet when she thinks of him or speaks of him (and even while desperately trying to appeal to him), she only uses noncommittal references such as "boy" or "son." It's hard to tell whether Moira MacTaggert observed Mother's Day in profound sadness, or threw darts at the date circled on her calendar.

Be that as it may, Moira now finds herself at the mercy of Proteus--but the X-Men are resolved to end his threat, and her anguish, by whatever means necessary.

While the team has been busy saving the lives of the city's citizens imperiled by the reality-shifting powers of Proteus, Moira has been striving to convince her... son? husband? to stand down. But, now a virtual amalgam of two beings and influenced by the memories and temperament of Joe, Proteus now finds his feelings for his mother to be more malevolent, and more sadistic. Yet in venting his rage at Moira, Proteus reveals a possible weakness that the X-Men may be able to exploit.

Clearly, the X-Men have made their choice, and proceed to attack Proteus in spite of his threat to Moira; but also in the hopes of removing her from his grasp as well as driving him out of the city. And no, before you ask, I have no idea when Proteus developed psychic powers that he can rely on to track an opponent in the event his vision is impaired (as well as to invade others' memories, as he does later in the story); though I suppose if you have control over reality, you can pretty much give yourself whatever powers you want. There's also the matter of Storm's questionable strategy to limit his sight--after all, if Proteus can pinpoint her through hurricane-force winds, fog isn't going to pose much of a challenge to him.

During the course of this story, you may also notice that in this final chapter of the saga, we're all of a sudden seeing a lot more of Peter Rasputin than we are of Colossus--which is odd to say the least, considering that Cyclops needs all hands on deck and Peter in his human form isn't going to be able to do squat in terms of either helping with the danger to the populace or in dealing with Proteus. We already have one depowered X-Man in the fray, and at least he's packing a piece:

We're never told why Cyclops hasn't brought in local armed law enforcement as backup in the fight against Proteus, or at least had the good sense to arm a couple of X-Men and post them as snipers. It can't be due to fear for Moira's safety, since the decision on that issue has already been made by the team. Proteus's attention can't be everywhere at once--and despite his reality-altering powers, it only takes one sniper in the clear to make the shot that takes him out. (Or, gosh, if only Cyclops had a solid steel X-Man standing around waiting for the order to attack...)

Apparently, though, a bullet wound is enough to send Proteus fleeing from the city--and with Phoenix taking point, the fight escalates as the rest of the X-Men make their approach.

Well, Proteus certainly knows more about his abilities than the rest of us poor shmucks--but wouldn't it stand to reason that a being who has control over reality can recreate his deteriorating form back to an original, fresh state--particularly if he's able to alter that form completely in order to avoid the energy blasts of Cyclops and Havok? Why in the world would he change back to the decaying body that's on the verge of turning to dust?

Since time is now of the essence to Proteus--and since we only have three or four pages left in this story--it appears that only now does Claremont wish to have Proteus face Colossus, a dramatic and what seems carefully staged conclusion to the battle that probably surprises no one, and that artist John Byrne has clearly been on board with. There are a few odd things to note in the next few scenes, but let's take them in sequence.

1): By all means, approach your deadly foe in human form--it makes perfect tactical sense to leave yourself as vulnerable as possible for no reason whatsoever. Oh, and "good luck storming the castle," since climbing those cliffs as Peter Rasputin is going to take awhile and thereby put Moira's life at greater risk.

2): "As casually as someone else might throw a baseball, the youngest X-man hurls Proteus the length of the battlement..." Isn't it Colossus who has the super-strength? When was the last time you or I were able to fling a rotted corpse across a courtyard with an arm that didn't have the benefit of bionics?

3): "An act of hatred and violence created me... shaped me into what I am today." We have to assume that Proteus is speaking out of bitterness at this point, whether it's his own or Joe's (or a little of both), since the violent circumstances of Proteus' conception would have no bearing on what kind of person he would grow to be. (Unless Moira would frequently recount to him the abhorrent nature of his father's character while he was living in his cell--which seems unlikely, unless she's some sort of harpy who used her captive son to vent her anger.) We know that Mutant X had some idea of how his mother had been hurt by his father--"the one-I-hate"--perhaps, while confined, he used his psychic ability to get a sense of that hurt and who was responsible for it.

4): "You toyed with me when you should have slain me, allowing me time to change from Peter Rasputin to Colossus!" Peter, you had an entire issue to change, pal--unless you were *cough* kept under wraps for some reason *cough*. We're left to assume that the delay was Cyclops' call--but why? Let's get the answer straight from the horse's mouth:

Yes, that's right: Waiting and sending Colossus against Proteus alone made far more sense than backing him up with the rest of the X-Men.  Would it have killed you to climb up there with him, Cyclops?

One minor point left to be made concerns the story's trump card--that the metal makeup of Colossus would allow him to obliterate Proteus, since we're told very early in the saga that Proteus can't abide such materials that are inorganic. It was fair, then, to wonder if a being of "organic steel" like Colossus would still be as deadly to Proteus--but the point seems to have factored into the ending not at all, nor is it an issue to really linger on. Perhaps the matter could have been served by having Cyclops consider his deployment of Colossus as a calculated risk.

In all fairness to Claremont, this four-part story handed him a lot of people to account for and provide with decent scenes--not just Proteus and Moira, but also a full complement of X-Men whose resources and strengths no doubt had to be dealt in sparingly and with careful thought in order to make the struggle against Proteus a considerable challenge for them, rather than simply reaching a point of piling on and overwhelming him. It would have been one thing had it been just a matter of cornering a foe who was dangerous simply by virtue of the fact that he was taking possession of (and thereby murdering) innocent people in order to survive; in that event, Proteus's moments would have been numbered, since his human victims had no abilities that would have even come close to stopping the X-Men. But if it seemed as if Proteus pulled his game-changing power of altering reality out of thin air, it was likely uncorked at a specific point in the story (and, fittingly enough, just as the X-Men were converging on his location) in order to give Claremont and his story their second wind and double the stakes for the team.

I may have chafed at some of the choices that Claremont made in order to move his story forward, with the almost-rehearsed feel of the story's ending being the final straw--but all things considered, the tale had some nice moments that offset those occasions when the reader might have found their head shaking in bewilderment.  The battle remains a solid win on the X-Men's scorecard, and an enjoyable read in its entirety.

Uncanny X-Men #128

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

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