Monday, June 5, 2023

The Fall Of Magneto!


Within the top twenty-five issues which constitute The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time*, we find coming in at No. 16 the 1993 X-Men #25--written by Fabian Nicieza, with art by Andy Kubert and Matt Ryan, its story bringing to a head the tense situation involving Magneto and his group of acolytes in his orbital base of Avalon.

*A twist on the 1969-81 Marvel's Greatest Comics concept, but instead took its title more seriously and solicited votes for the top 100 comics published by the company and, in a ten-issue series of trade paperbacks from 2001-02, counted down and reprinted the twenty-five issues which topped the list. (SPOILER ALERT: The No. 1 fan favorite turned out to be Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the debut of Spider-Man.)

Underlying the conflict which follows between the X-Men and Magneto, as you may have already guessed, are the differences that Charles Xavier and his old friend/foe continue to have in their respective approaches to how best to safeguard the mutants of the world vis-à-vis their relations with homo sapiens--a very old argument between them that has once more led to Magneto taking a stand of force in his efforts to prevent mutants from being oppressed and/or killed by those humans who harbor hatred for them, rejecting Xavier's dream of integrating the two races in peace which Magneto views as futile. But in the story's appearance in the 100 Greatest series, Bob Greenberger (Director-Publishing Operations), in his foreword, reveals at least one of the two more prevalent scenes (while hinting at the second) which were likely responsible for this issue of X-Men coming to mind for the over 50,000 voters who filled out their ballots. (Which constitutes SPOILER ALERT #2--but perhaps a moot point, given that the issue is nearly thirty years old.)

But let's take things one step at a time, as we're first witness to what serves as the last straw for Magneto--what he considers an act of provocation when the powers of the world decide to implement the so-called Magneto Protocols, which leads the Master of Magnetism to respond with a reprisal that technologically cripples the entire planet. Consequently, the X-Men, who have the benefit of their equipment from the Shi'ar to help them recover, assess the stakes involved if they do not act decisively against him.

(NOTE: The splash page's dedication which mentions a thirty-year future for the X-Men, and the PPC's review today, thirty years after the issue's publication, is purely coincidental--honest!)

Fortunately, before throwing the world into darkness and chaos, Magneto managed to light a fire under Kubert and Ryan to provide an impressive wrap-around cover for this issue--which throws in (no pun intended) a Gambit hologram which regrettably can't be discerned in a two-dimensional representation. I'm not the greatest fan of such gimmicks, but it did look pretty cool when tilted at the correct angle.

With the X-Men resolving to act on his initiative, Xavier then makes timely decisions as to which members will form the strike team which will make the assault on Avalon, along with a surprising announcement--that he will join the team that's boarding Magneto's station, as field leader. And while such a decision isn't without precedent, Nicieza and Kubert spend four pages having the X-Men react as if we had just heard a pin drop.

In these and other prelude scenes, you can see the potential pitfalls here easily enough--one complication being the use of of an exoskeleton that requires considerable expenditure of Xavier's mental abilities, when he could have just as easily monitored and directed the team's progress telepathically and/or launched his own mental attack if need be. Instead, he's forced to depend on Jean Grey adding her abilities to his own to mount a mental assault on their foe, even as Jean expresses doubts in his approach, confiding to Cyclops and the Beast that "I won't allow anything to happen--or be a party to something--which goes against everything we believe."

Yet those beliefs--the cornerstone of Xavier's "dream" of coexistence--refer not to any decisions made in the coming battle, but to fostering human/mutant relations while rejecting the "closed fist" methods of Magneto, a distinction that Jean, who has willingly participated in do-or-die battles against Magneto since her days as Marvel Girl, should be well aware of. If she's now worried that Xavier may lose his perspective in facing down their foe and going too far, Nicieza's goal seems apparent--blurring the lines between the two points of thought in order to accommodate a coming crisis occurring on Avalon, an assumption not only fueled by the story's title, "Dreams Fade," but by Xavier's blunt admission that he may have been wrong in striving to live up to those beliefs. (Talk about hearing a pin drop--that admission would take the cake.)

As for the battle itself, score one for planning. Aboard Magneto's station, the team uses the Shi'ar technology present (pilfered by Magneto when he had access to Xavier's mansion) to teleport the Acolytes into escape pods and launch them into orbit, effectively removing nearly all of their opposition. That leaves only the main event, and neither writer nor artists fail to pace an intense collection of scenes which leaves the reader equally focused and frustrated when points of view are in conflict as much as the players involved.

So far, it appears that the two-pronged attack by Xavier and Jean has been fruitless in its attempt to force Magneto to face up to the kind of person he's become and the means by which he advances his agenda--both underscored by his unshaking belief that mutants must carve out and establish their own place in the world separate and apart from humans, while taking what is denied them through the use of force if necessary. He remains, as he says, as resolute as ever; but when his son, Quicksilver, lashes out at him physically and verbally, Magneto responds in kind, before finally reaching an insane conclusion that for one X-Man crosses a line. For another, however, it prompts indecision--and it's here that Jean's misgivings pave the way for one of the two pivotal moments that Nicieza has planned.

The other dramatic moment comes almost immediately afterward, when Xavier, jettisoning his reluctance to take more extreme measures to deal with Magneto's aggression after witnessing such a horrific act committed against one of his own, finally resolves to put an end to Magneto's threat, once and for all. And, gosh, it looks like managing that exoskeleton was never much of a hindrance to his power after all, now that the moment has arrived.

In the battle's aftermath, we learn that the X-Men's incursion on Avalon has depended in part on an ace in the hole--Peter Rasputin, aka Colossus, who decided to join the Acolytes but appears to have had second thoughts and stepped in to mitigate the loss of life. Yet the closing scenes also serve to illuminate the cost of everyone's actions, no matter who felt theirs were justified.

This story would continue in Wolverine #75, for obvious reasons, while X-Men and Uncanny X-Men would continue to be joined at the hip in order to guarantee sales of both offer a more streamlined X-Men product that made for a more coherent reading experience... er, yes, that's what I meant.

PPC reviews of other top 25 100 Greatest stories. (So far!)

(How did your own rankings line up with those of voters?)
Issue Voter Ranking
(in countdown format)
Amazing Spider-Man #1 23
Daredevil #181 22
Amazing Spider-Man #122 19
Incredible Hulk #181 17
Amazing Spider-Man #33 15
Spider-Man #1 14
Amazing Spider-Man #121 6
Uncanny X-Men #137
(in the context of Phoenix The Untold Story)


Wildrover said...

Great breakdown as always Comicsfan. Pretty shocking stuff at the time, but The X-men had been on a downward spiral for a while, IMHO, ever since The Fall of the Mutants concluded. The writing became very bombastic, which could be said of many Marvel titles at the time...the artwork here also felt overwrought and overly flash; I was a huge fan of Marc Silvestri. Led to one of the silliest retcons in Marvel history ! That Wolverine's claws were made of bone and not solely a result of the Weapon X program. I should probably go back and re-read though, perhaps time has been kinder than I remember !

Big Murr said...

I've yet to read-hear a satisfactory explanation why the human population of Marvel Earth 616 reviles mutants but will throw the Avengers a parade. The Fantastic Four are celebrities but the X-Men are always a misstep away from being burned at the stake. The worse aftershock of this inexplicable double-standard are the writers who don't bring the mutants up into the heroic sunshine, but drag all the other superheroes down into the "stone the freaks" muck.

The leeching of adamantium is just...dopey. Marvel's indestructible metal is now as impressive as Silly Putty. After this story, Ultron should have become as threatening as a Roomba. If Tony Stark and/or Reed Richards can't now create a focused magnetic cannon gizmo, then they should hand in their super scientist badges.

Ranking those "Greatest" Stories?

Amazing Spider-Man #1 - it's his first issue, but otherwise, so what?
Daredevil #181 - gripping stuff!!
Amazing Spider-Man #122 - classic story!
Incredible Hulk #181 - so, it's the first appearance of Wolverine. Big whoop.
Amazing Spider-Man #33 - edge of the seat, powerhouse story!
Spider-Man #1 - even a bigger gob of confused indifference. Why was it in the running?
Amazing Spider-Man #121 - shouldn't really have its own spot. Should be linked with #121.
X-Men #137 sparks more than indifference, but actual a teeny bit of revulsion

Comicsfan said...

Wildrover, I didn't think Kubert and Ryan did a bad job overall, but I might have been curious to see Silvestri's take on the story (or that of practically any other artists who weren't compelled to follow '90s guidelines and render poster-sized panels with grimacing figures in order to convey ongoing drama). As for Wolverine, his period of bone-claws in conjunction with a more bestial posture and manner is one I wouldn't care to revisit, not even for the PPC! :)

Murray, heroes who walked a fine line between being allies (but just this short of accepting) of their mutant comrades-in-arms and yet remaining mistrustful of them in order to (let's face it) perpetuate the X-Men as an outlaw "team apart" from the mainstream amounted to a status quo which stretched on too long, despite, as you note, the presence of mutants (including one of the X-Men) in the Avengers (and Storm even coming aboard the FF for a time). Meanwhile, the Hulk receives a pardon (two, actually). As for Magneto's treatment of Wolverine... while Magneto apparently thought nothing of being able to pull off what he did, I went back and forth with trying to rationalize his control of metal being along the lines of the molecular rearranger's ability to reshape adamantium, and ultimately, grudgingly, struck a compromise with "plausible."

(By the way, I do believe you missed your calling with penning your thoughts in something like a Twitter account--your brief appraisals of those 100 Greatest issue rankings would catch the eye and, I dare say, provoke a good deal of replies in response!)

Big Murr said...

I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a zinger...

My thinking could be coloured by past attempts to penetrate the Twitter-verse and failing. I compare Twitter to being in a public swimming pool and then surrounded by an outing of 3rd Graders all screaming at the top of their lungs "LOOK AT ME! MOM! LOOK AT ME!

I think two days is my endurance record.

I forgot about the precedent of the molecular rearranger concerning adamantium. I don't know how I forgot after that thrilling scene in Avengers #22 (1999) where Iron Man jury rigs a rearranger in mid-battle to fight the Ultron horde. He had a lot of qualifiers on what this modification would affect and what it wouldn't. (I just reread it)

With this scene as evidence, I will join you in grudgingly accepting Magneto's attack on Wolverine.

Still and all, if Magneto can do this, Ultron should have him on the top of his "Organic Fleshbag Threats That Need Termination", maybe edging out the Scarlet Witch.

Anonymous said...

Murray, on the mistrust of the X-Men and other mutants - is there ever really a satisfactory explanation for prejudice? Its illogical by definition, surely?

Comicsfan, how crazy is it that of those 'greatest' Marvel stories you listed, none feature the work of Jack Kirby? I'm going to have to look into the full list, because that is just madness! Even allowing for an apparent Spidey-bias in the voting...

That X-Men #25 wouldn't even get close to any top 100 I'd come up with. Its what on this side of the Atlantic we call bollocks.
The foreword you included sums it up really - "the jocular writer... was stunned when they took him seriously and made this moment the turning point in the series". I bet he was!


Comicsfan said...

Sean, bear in mind that the brief listing I made only included issues reviewed here in the PPC. Kirby is actually represented very well in the full listing and in the top 25 in particular (and deservedly so).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link CF.
Actually, it doesn't look to me like Kirby is really that well represented in the list at all. Sure FF #1, Avengers #4, and X-Men #1 are high up in the top 10, but are they really his (or Stan Lee's) greatest stories? It looks like they were included for purely historical reasons.

Imho there's something very wrong with a Marvel's greatest top 100 when comics like FF #51 or Thor #161 don't make the cut. Especially as terrible ones like Marvel Spotlight #5 (seriously?) and New Mutants #1 do!