Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marvel 1985 Week--Uncanny X-Men #191

Yesterday, we looked at a comic that had way too little going on inside. Today, it's the reverse, a story that is so crammed, so over-stuffed that it approaches self-parody, if not incoherence:

Get used to that cover scene. We'll be seeing it again, and again.

In 1985, even though the X-Men were very popular, they hadn't expanded into a line-consuming empire yet. There was just Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants. No X-Factor, or X-Force, or Adjectiveless X-Men, or Wolverine solo series, or Cable, or...

Here's the interesting thing, though. Sometimes, and I can't believe I'm saying this, you want all of those other books around. Because Chris Claremont by this point had really big stories to tell, but he was restricted to a single book. (Sure, he could have done crossovers between Uncanny and New Mutants, but it was exceptionally rare in those days for Marvel to do cross-title crossovers). But, even though he had only one book to tell his epics in, he refused to rein the story in and all, refused to reduce the scope of the story or cut some extraneous characters out.

Which made for dense, clunky, border-line unreadable messes sometimes. Like this storyline, for example. It's clearly a precursor to such X-crossovers as X-Tinction Agenda or Age of Apocalypse...but Claremont tried to cram something that big into just 2 issues of Uncanny X-Men. And it just didn't work as well as it should have.

Oh, yeah, the full creative team:

Poor John Romita Jr. I pity anyone having to fit this much stuff into this few panels.

So, what is our story??

Don't worry, that title is not the only Lucas "homage" were going to get this issue.

Kulan Gath is an interesting character. Roy Thomas and Barry Smith conjured him up as a Conan villain...and apparently this meant that Marvel couldn't own him, as the character "followed" Red Sonja over to Dynamite.

But that didn't stop Marvel from using him in the contemporary Marvel-616 universe. His essence was contained in a mystic amulet, which let him turn up in the Claremont/Byrne Spider-Man/Red Sonja story in Marvel Team-Up. (By the that story Mary Jane turned into Red Sonja. Good god, Quesada, why wouldn't you want Peter to stay married to her?!?!?) He turned up again in this story, then in the Busiek/Perez Avengers, and in one of the alternate timelines in Exiles. So, a pretty busy guy for a thousand of years old sorcerer.

So, since Spidey kicked his ass in the Marvel Team-Up story, he's back for revenge. How? Go grab a pop and some snacks, kids...we're in for Claremont exposition of Brobdingnagian proportions:

OK, so he's turned NYC back to barbarian days...

...OK, and Newish Mutants are Conanized...

...OK, OK, and the X-Men and the Morlocks and The Avengers are all transformed, too. Sheesh, how many words can one panel hold? Again, pity poor JR Jr., who had to shoehorn 22 characters around those damn captions. (and you guys should thank me...I cut a couple of panels worth of exposition out for you, because I'm the blogger who cares).

You see what I mean about the story being too big for the space? 4 teams of heroes, plus Spider-Man, plus Kulan Gath, plus Selene the immortal mutant psychic vampire wench, plus Doctor Strange, plus a transformed reality...and somehow we've got to do the story in only two issues? It's too freakin' ambitious, like trying to do Age of Apocalypse in only two issues. And it's made even worse by Claremont's growing logorrhea and insistence on giving every single character a bit (or several). In a couple of years, when they could have spread the story over a couple of titles, it might have worked.

Anyway, Spider-Man is the only one not transformed by the spell, because Gath wants him to suffer maximum torment watching his friends destroyed. Nice guy. Peter can't even understand any of the transformed heroes, as they all speak Hyborian or whatever.

Besides keeping Doctor Strange under wraps, Gath has also captured Selene, and made sure she can't use her magicks:

And he's merged Xavier and Caliban into a very weird hybrid type of Cerebro thing:

But that doesn't stop the rebels from attacking Kulan Gath's stronghold:

As I said, get used to this Colossus versus the Vision bit...

One of the other drawbacks to the short length of this story is that Claremont can't keep himself from killing off characters to make it "shocking." Of course it's no spoiler to reveal that there's a massive reset button waiting at the end of the episode, which means he can treat this as an alternate timeline and give us lots of gratuitous death without it having to count. And boy, does he indulge himself. Rogue dies first...

And apparently, even though she no longer speaks English, she retains her southern accent. She's the Foghorn Leghorn of Hyboria...or rather she was.

Warlock, who's unaffected by the mumbo jumbo because he's an alien, flees with Storm...

...but kills Wolfsbane in the process!!

Cannonball dies offscreen...that's right, we never see who or how. Claremont is so eager to kill off his own characters, he's not even bothering to show us anymore!!

Firmly under Gath's power, Danielle Moonstar uses her abilities to show Gath the things his enemies fear the most, so he can transform and control them:

Really? Janet Van Dyne's "greatest fear" is becoming an actual wasp?? Seriously, Claremont, that's the best you can come up with?? (And should I mention how JR Jr. makes Thanos look kinda like the Beast?!?)

Well, it's been awhile. How about we stop the story cold for...more exposition!!

(Again, I've cut a lot of that out for you. You're welcome).

Oh, and we haven't "homaged" George Lucas in awhile, so...

By the way, Spider-Man is Jesus:

It's time for yet another fight between our cover duo:

But this time it goes far, far worse:

Ah, more unpermanent death! Hey, there's some people left alive, Chris!!

Not any more!! Hey, can we kill Spider-Man, too?

Fortunately for the fate of the universe, Warlock grabs Gath while Storm takes his amulet...

But we get to kill a couple of more characters in a caption as Selene steals the amulet for herself.

But before he dies, Warlock gives the techno-virus to Storm, and Stormlock kills Selene:

Sigh. Before any more characters can die, Doctor Strange finally wakes up, and uses Illyana's magic and time/space powers to make it all "never happened."

Really, it all never even happened!!

So, what event was it that prevented Gath from emerging in the first place in this "new" timeline?

Oh, hell, it's Nimrod. Bring back the other timeline, please!!!!

Sigh. A story that never happened, that no one but five people even remember...what was the point, except to set up What Ifs and Exiles stories? What a waste. But still, perhaps part of the problem was that this was just a story before its time. If Marvel had allowed it to spread out longer, than maybe...And if Claremont had been able to restrain his bloodlust, been able to adjust to length he was given, this coulda been a contender. Instead, he tried to trump Days Of Future Past, and completely crushed the story as a result. Sigh...


These guys didn't actually have their own mag this month...that would come next month:

But this ad was in most of the marvels this month. And in addition to the ads, Marvel was pimping Cloak and Dagger hard with the guest appearances. This month they showed up as the stars of Marvel Fanfare:

...finished up a three part story in New Mutants:

...and guest-starred in Power Pack, of all places:

I wouldn't be surprised if they did the Hostess ads this month, too.

Obviously, Marvel thought these guys might be the next big thing. But they just never caught on with the public. Various attempts at their own series never lasted longer than 13 issues, and after 1991 they were relegated to guest appearances, and "hey look at me cameos" in alternate universe stories such as Age of Apocalypse, Earth-X, Marvel Zombies, etc. Oh, yeah, and they were in the "League of Losers" during Kirkman's tenure on Marvel Team-Up. So much for being the next big thing.

They just had a brand new special out this week. But don't expect anything to come of it.

Marvel 1985 Week--Avengers #253

Sometimes you get an issue that's merely station-keeping...that essentially is just padding, killing time until the scheduled wrap-up for the storyline. If this issue were from the 21st century, I'd say they were "writing for the trades." But it's not the 21st century, it's 1985:

First, apologies...I've already dealt with this issue a bit before, during The Vision Is Radder Than You Think Week. I'll try not to make this a re-run...but, well, there's not a lot going on in this issue.

Our creators?

We're towards the end of a fairly long arc. The Vision was immobilized by a mysterious forcefield, even though his mind still worked. Starfox (really--Starfox was an Avenger!! True!!) came up with the idea of hooking up the Vision to Isaac, the sentient computer that ran Titan. Bad move.

Isaac, you see, did repair the Vision...but he also increased the Vision's computer intelligence, gave him the ability to subtly influence peoples minds, and convinced the Vision to take over the world. Damn intelligent computers!!.

To that end, Vision became Avengers chairman; influenced people to accept is leadership; managed to get a cooperative line-up of Avengers; established the West Coast Avengers, as a way to expand his influence; and lobbied for a position on the president's Cabinet. He's sent the Avengers off on manufactured missions to keep them busy, and when Dane Whitman (the Black Knight) comes on an unscheduled visit, Vizh locks him up. And now he's ready to use the Comfy Chair of Doom to take over all of Earth's computer networks (such as they were in 1985).

So there's a lot on our plate, here, right? No time for meandering, right? We start out by...

Watching Mockingbird stop a boat of drug runners.

For 3 pages.

Nothing against Mockingbird...but she's not even a member of the East Coasters..she's West Coast, dawg. So why, with so much ready to boil over with the Vision storyline, do we spend 3 pages watching a West Coast Avenger busting up a drug boat?

Well, let's allow Stern and Hall their indulgences. Things will pick up soon, right?

Nope. Next, two pages of a scheduled West Coast Avengers meeting. So pressing is this business that Tigra is doing exercise on the computers:

And Wonder Man debuts his newest super-suit (which, to be fair, is a damned sight better than his safari jacket get-up).

And no business is actually transacted at this meeting, as Hawkeye just stands around fretting that everybody is late. Seriously, none of this has anything to do with anything!!

So, 5 pages in, and not only not a single bit of plot advancement, but not a single appearance by the actual stars of the book.

Now, some of this is understandable pimping of a new franchise. This took place soon after the end of the West Coast Avengers initial mini-series, and soon before their continuing series kicked off. The Westies also guest-starred in several issues of Iron Man during this time frame. So, Marvel was trying to pump them up before their permanent debut. Fair enough.

So, things are going to get better, right?


Vision had sent the Avengers proper out to roust the Blood Brothers at a supposed Thanos outpost. The Avengers whooped them easily enough last issue. And now...we spend 4 pages of watching them clean-up the base.


Well, OK, we do spend a few panels on our heroes pointlessly demonstrating their powers:

And Hercules has to cobble together some new togs after his got trashed in the fight:

And the rest these 4 pages are spent wondering how to imprison the villains, and the army thanking the Avengers for being there, and...nothing. A whole lotta nothing.

OK, we're now 9 pages in, we haven't even seen the Vision, our plot hasn't advanced one iota. Are we ready to get things started yet? Yes, here it comes...

Two pages of exposition!! Two entire pages of watching a hologram of the Vision's head explaining all of the back story to a man held captive in a tube!! Two pages!!! Of course, nothing in the prior nine pages could have been cut or put aside to make room for this, right? Right?!?

So now, 11 pages in, it's time for...

THE COMFY CHAIR OF DOOM!! Yes, we're going to watch the Vision sit in a chair. Whoo-hoo!!

Even Isaac is getting bored with this pacing:

So the Vision enters the (1985 version) of cyberspace:

And takes over the world!! (Finally!)

But there's one fly in the ointment: Quasimodo!!

Quasimodo--the computer created by the Mad Thinker that became sentient!! The Silver Surfer created a body for him!! But he was evil!! His mind was trapped in the Soviet computer systems!! Another full page of exposition!!

Finally, somebody in this issue does something:

Meanwhile, Dane tries to use his psychic link to the Black Sword to free himself:

...which is just an excuse for: SHATNER-ACTING!!

(Eventually, this works before he bursts a blood vessel. Sadly, it takes 2 full pages. least it's two full pages of SHATNER-ACTING!!)
Then, through means completely inexplicable and nonsensical:

Vision somehow casts Quasimodo's intelligence out of the Soviet computer networks and into outer space. Huh?? Is that what happens to my files when I empty the recycle bin??

Anyhoo, the Avengers East and West begin to suss out that something isn't kosher in the Vision's deli:

And as they fly back to NYC, the Vision clues them in:

And there's the end.

That's it. A 2-page battle with Quasimodo...2 pages to take over the Earth...and 18-pages of absolutely nothing. Stopping a drug boat, exercise, fashion, exposition, flexing, and just generally nada.

Now, next issue was Bob Hall's last on the title. And I wonder if something like "let's stretch out the storyline so it coincides with his last issue," or "John Buscema isn't ready to take over yet, vamp for another issue" was at work. Just uniformed speculation on my part. But Roger Stern usually managed to move his stories along with a bit more alacrity...and when you actually read this one, you can't help but feel overwhelmed by the sense of time-killing and padding. Or stretching out one more issue so the story would fill a trade.

Which, by the way, is not to say anything bad about Bob Hall's art. Considering that he has to draw a bunch of people standing around talking, he does a fine job...and his "disembodied" Vision and Quasimodo are especially well-taken.

Back in the day, I remember being a little cheesed off at paying 60¢ for this issue. Little did I know how well I had it. Fact--60¢ in 1985 adjusts, after inflation, to $1.21 in 2010 money, not $3.99. Someone at Marvel owes me a lot of money... (Yes, yes, I know...please spare me the nit-picky comments about paper, printing, blah blah. Trust me, I know. Don't harsh my mellow here).


Marvel's other non-mutant team of the day:

Well, maybe not exactly non-mutant. The membership at this point consisted of The Beast, Iceman, Angel, Moondragon, Gargoyle, Valkyrie, and Cloud. So, half the team is mutants who were just hanging around waiting for X-Factor to start up, an ex-Avenger, two Defenders long-termers, and one of the lamest characters ever. I'd say what an odd line-up, but really, what does that mean in the context of the Defenders?

Two points of note: first, it's cool to see a bitchin' Mike Mignola cover of Gargoyle fighting a Lovecraftian beastie. That could be re-purposed to Hellboy pretty easily.

Second, the Defenders would be cancelled within a year.