Monday, November 16, 2015

When Quakes The Magnum Force!

The "new" X-Men didn't have much time to acclimate to Charles Xavier's school before they were thrust into various conflicts in locales around the world (and beyond), receiving their training "on the job." A space station in Earth orbit battling the Sentinels; then on to Ireland, and an encounter with Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut; then to Scotland, and escaping with their lives following the regeneration of Magneto on Muir Island; then across the galaxy to the Shi'ar homeworld. You'd think things would slow down a little at that point--if you call running into "Weapon Alpha," being ambushed by Warhawk, then kidnapped by Mesmero and brainwashed into being circus performers, followed by another near-deadly battle with Magneto "slowing down." At times you'd think the X-Men needed a vacation from their down time.

So we catch up with the team following their exit from the Savage Land, slowly but surely making their way back home. Their time together, away from the structured guidance of Xavier (however well-intentioned), has been well-spent, with Cyclops getting to know and bonding with his new team (and vice versa) while constantly working with them in the field as well as improvised training sessions, forging them into the workings of a fighting unit (if still a little rough around the edges). Currently, their friends back in New York believe them to have died in the fight against Magneto in Antarctica, while Cyclops and his group believe Phoenix and the Beast to have perished in the same battle--and so the book's characters have moved on, in one way or another. Xavier has decided to leave Earth and return with Lilandra to the Shi'ar Empire; Jean Grey has taken a long vacation and will end up in Scotland visiting Moira MacTaggert on Muir Isle; while the X-Men land in Japan, in a two-part story that will reunite them with Sunfire--as well as pit them against a madman bent on usurping control of Japan, or destroying it.

Being thrust into so many new situations to which they've had to adapt has worked wonders for this new team of X-Men, serving to bring them together as a more tightly-knit group and forcing them to trust each other to a greater degree--a more natural process than might have taken place within the more controlled environment of Xavier's school, getting the call to action and racing out on a mission on the heels of Cyclops. In their battles around the world, they've been forced to depend on each other for survival and pool their input, with Cyclops and Banshee providing a level of experience when focus and perspective were needed. There is still a ways to go; but now these individuals are a team, one that Cyclops has continued to train both in the field and using whatever tools and environment were at hand. In this case, aboard a Japanese ship bound for Agarashima, one that approaches port to find a holocaust.

The X-Men make their way to land, planning to head to the home of Shiro Yoshida (Sunfire) outside of the city in order to secure help in reaching the states. On the way, they assist rescue crews in their efforts, but soon find that the disaster may not have been naturally occurring.

Again, the X-Men are still a little "rough around the edges," even with their relationships with each other, though admittedly that description would apply to Wolverine whatever the circumstances. Working with this new team has been a learning experience for Cyclops, as well, as these X-Men were all grown people when asked to join, with their own minds and opinions that were not carefully and strictly guided into adulthood by Xavier; and unlike Scott's role with the original team, Wolverine, Storm and the others aren't always going to fall in line and take Scott's word as gospel. Here, Scott's role as team leader is given deference out of respect and the fact that he's proven himself able and trustworthy, rather than the fact that Xavier has assigned him to such a post. The fact that Scott has so quickly been taken into the confidence of the others as the one to spearhead them into battle and call the shots speaks volumes of his character and willingness to meet his team halfway.

Once they've arrived at the Yoshida manor, the X-Men are surprised by the number of government officials and officers that are present, and Cyclops decides that a covert entrance might be best under the circumstances. It's a strange call on his part--a concern to avoid a conflict rife with gunfire, even though a costumed group appearing on the grounds out of nowhere is precisely the type of play that would have trigger-happy officers shooting first and asking questions later. Instead, why not walk up to the first checkpoint, say "Hello, we're the X-Men--Shiro Yoshida knows us and can vouch for us, we'd like to see him," and waiting while they radio inside for confirmation? As it is, Sunfire has every right to react to the X-Men as intruders.

It's only through Misty Knight's intervention, acting on orders of the Prime Minister, that things are smoothed over and Cyclops is brought into a high-level meeting where details on the man-made earthquake are being discussed.

Elsewhere, the story spends a generous amount of space on Wolverine, who has his first meeting with Mariko Yashida (Shiro's cousin--no, I can't explain the variation in spelling, either, though nothing says that cousins can't have similarities in their last names). It's one of the scenes in the X-Men book that gives us valuable insight into Wolverine's character--and, in this case, also takes steps toward revealing his name.

Mariko has obviously made an impression on Lo... er, Wolverine, and we know their relationship will take shape in future issues. For now, all hell is breaking loose, as another man-made earthquake strikes the compound--seemingly by design, as an attack force arrives, intent on kidnapping the assembled officials. And what a familiar attack force they are:

Another strange misconception from Cyclops, given that the Mandroids have just taken Sunfire out of action and are clearly "prepared" for any resistance they encounter. Still, the X-Men indeed give a good accounting of themselves, and are soon throwing the Mandroids on the scrap heap--with the exception of Colossus, who has been having doubts as to his worth to the team and subsequently makes the occasional "unforced error."

(No, I don't know how you miss something as hulking as a Mandroid when you're standing right next to it. Mandroids don't strike me as being all that agile in getting out of someone's way when they're within arm's length.)

Once the X-Men have cleaned house, the architect of this power play finally makes his demands known--former arms dealer Moses Magnum, who seems to have the connections necessary to conscript the Mandroids into his service and who also appears to have the ability to produce earthquakes powerful enough to hold an entire country hostage.

After attending a government briefing on Magnum based on intelligence gathered by Misty and her partner, Colleen Wing, the X-Men's aid (along with that of Sunfire) is requested to penetrate Magnum's islet base and put a halt to his plans. It's an opportunity for the story to engage in one of the "by the numbers" sequences that served to show us just how far the X-Men have come as a team, where they demonstrate remarkable efficiency in taking a coordinated approach to dealing with a foe, thanks in part to the direction and tactics of Cyclops. We saw a more limited example of Scott's utilization of his team in such a way when they took on Magneto with "hit and run" strategy in his Antarctic base; here, however, a more finely-tuned plan is called for, as Cyclops splits the team to infiltrate Magnum's stronghold from several directions at once in the hopes of taking him unaware.

Such a strategy spelled disaster on the surface of the moon against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, though the difference here is that Magnum's forces are defensive and stationary, and are not hunting the X-Men. But the plan collapses when Magnum himself enters the fray.

With Colossus out of the fight, at least temporarily (you'll also note that in these earlier stories, he does apparently need to breathe air while in his armored form), Magnum then begins to make reasonably quick work of the remainder of Cyclops' team. It's interesting how Cyclops, himself having force beams to be reckoned with, is never permitted by the story to engage Magnum directly (aside from the cover depiction). Magnum is arguably "outgunned" by both Cyclops and Sunfire, and even needs Mandroids to back him up; but it takes the return of Colossus to make him withdraw.

Colossus more than makes up for his prior efforts against the Mandroids by trashing this group of them--yet the threat remains from Magnum, who has retreated to marshal his power in making good on his warning to the Japanese government. It's only through the sacrifice from Banshee that his plans come to a (forgive me) screeching halt.

With Magnum's threat ended, the team is retrieved by search personnel coordinated by Misty--and while Banshee's recovery was touch-and-go and his power damaged perhaps irreparably, the team regroups at Shiro's manor for an otherwise happy Christmas celebration which allows them all to further cement their bond together and provide some well-earned down time. Eventually, after being waylaid in Canada by Alpha Flight, they make their way back home. Around the same time, Jean Grey is wrapping up the last leg of her vacation with her arrival in Edinburgh where she's met by Moira, along with Scott's brother Alex, Lorna Dane, and Jamie Madrox, all unaware of the X-Men's survival and impending return.

Which leads into our "Coming Up" teaser, since, back on Muir Isle, a certain embittered Angus MacWhirter is paying a visit to Moira's research facility while it's deserted, determined to deliver some payback for the inadvertent destruction of some of his property due to the activities of the X-Men.  But this night is fated to be his last.


Uncanny X-Men #s 118-119

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Ric Villamonte and Terry Austin
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski and John Costanza


You may have noticed that the cover to issue #119 bears the emblem of the Eagle Award, presented to comic book titles and creators thanks to votes by British fans at year's end. X-Men began receiving votes soon after the award's launch in 1977, and the awards presented for 1978's comics work once again included the book.

After 2012, the award became designated as the MCM Award, and is presumably being presented at the MCM (Movie Comic Media) London Comic Con (formerly the MCM Expo).


Colin Jones said...

My first ever issue of Uncanny X-Men was the very next one - #120 which featured a cameo by Canada's Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. And now his son is Canada's PM - I feel old :( My second issue of X-Men was #132, dated April 1980, which also had an Eagle award on the cover - I didn't know what an Eagle award was, or what The Eagle was even though it was actually a British institution.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, you crossed my mind when I was sitting down writing about the mag's Eagle award--I thought, "Hey, anyone who's familiar with the term 'tommyrot' probably knows about the Eagle award!" :)

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