Monday, January 31, 2011

Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run Part 2

Continuing my retrospective of Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run. Click here for Part One.

After battling the Fury Braddock Manor was ruined - or so the X-Men thought. They came back the next day to find the place as good as ever - with Brain and wife Meggan to greet them. Apparently the mansion is magical, or something. Who knows! Apparently Brain simply wasn't home when the Fury appeared. Something doesn't seem quite right, but the X-Men brush it off. While in England they get word that Queen has requested an audience with them. The group get all ready for a cordial visit to meet the Queen, but sadly are kidnapped on the way. Viper (aka Madam Hydra) wants revenge against the X-Men for the last time they met (in X-Treme X-Men), and she's bought used Murder World death-traps to kill them. This two-part story arch is drawn by Oliver Coipel who shows why he's risen to be such a favorite artist at Marvel. Viper's attack on the X-Men is quite brutal, ending with a cliffhanger where Viper actually does shoot Sage dead. Or, at least she thought it was Sage. Wolverine had smelled Viper earlier, and he switched places with Sage using a holographic imaging device. So Wolverine, with his healing factor, survives the gun shot. Viper apparently was in England not only to kill the X-Men, but also to kill Courtney Ross. Instead of fulfilling the hit on Miss Ross, Viper is invited to Ross' new revival of the Hellfire Club. Anyway - Viper is out of the picture, but she leaves a present behind, a Nuke for the X-Men to deal with. To be honest there was a lot of technobabble on how the X-Men where getting rid of this nuke, with Storm using her powers -- sometimes it just doesn't come across as clear to the reader. It was still a fun two issues.

The next two issue arch returned with Alan Davis on art. There seems to be a beginning flirtation between Nightcrawler and Rachel, who had long been team-mates before. Nightcrawler seemed very confused on this point, though the plot thread never really developed further.

Wolverine and Storm are set for a night on the town - but quickly get called in on a case. A bunch of mutant bashers, who where about to kill this young woman associated with a mutant, had been attacked and killed - and seemingly by claws like Wolverine's. Knowing that the press would forget all about the fact these guys where near to killing someone else, and only focus on a mutant having killed them, the X-Men needed to move quick find the killer. They track down the suspect, X-23, the girl clone of Wolverine. This is X-23's introduction into the X-Men's world. She's fearl and angry - and not about to trust the X-Men easily. In the course of trying to capture X-23, the young woman who was almost killed by the mutant bashers was found - and would be able to explain that X-23 had saved her life. The X-Men, and especially Wolverine, don't entirely know what to make of X-23 - but end up taking her to Xavier's while the case is pending. It was a fun and colorful adventure, stunningly drawn and colored - and Chris Claremont was handed Marvel's new character to sort of hold onto, while Marvel decided what they really wanted to do with her. She would eventually become a member of the New X-Men (the book focusing on the younger students at Xavier's), but until then Claremont got to use her and add her to the team.

Sage, for me, was one of the great highlights of Claremont's return to the X-Men. She was simply a great character, which made me sad to see her leave the team at the end of the X-Men's last adventure, apparently stepping back into her old life within the Hellfire Club.

The next story arch brought back the sorely missed Hellfire Club. It seems like ever since their defeat during the Dark Pheonix Saga they have never been quite the same again. They remained in the background during most of Claremont's original X-Men run - but beyond a battle and Magneto joining their ranks, it never the threat it once was.

With Sage abruptly missing, the other X-Men came looking for her - and found her trail lead to the boarded up Hellfire Club. Emma Frost, former White Queen of the Hellfire Club, joined them; though Rachel would have nothing to do with it. It seemed as if Claremont was having a bit of fun having Emma and Rachel clash against one another. Eventually Emma prevailed in joining the group - and she did prove helpful, revealing a teleport portal located next the Hellfire Club and known only to high-ranking members. The X-Men assume at this point that Sage would know they would come looking for her, and eventually find this portal - so the X-Men go into the transport portal. Along for the ride, escaping from her entrapment beneath the Hellfire Club, former member Selene was loose and evidently followed them.

The group ended up split apart. Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Bishop found themselves in Paris. Emma, Marvel Girl, and Selene found themselves in Japan, in an elegant castle/hotel where Viper and Courtney Ross waited for them. Emma took advantage of her former status as White Queen and challenged Ross, the apparent new White Queen, for the title. Meanwhile Rachel, disguised as the Emma's White Princess (bodyguard, or something) snuck around to find out what was going on in this place. Apparently this was a slavers ring, where people bid on mutants to keep as slaves. Along the way Rachel was confronted by Selene, who's shadow powers and abilities proved quite a challenge against Marvel Girl.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Storm and her group find the Sebastian Shaw, former leader of the Hellfire Club, and now leader of the new more friendlier version of the Hellfire Club. Sage was again at his right side, like she had been for years before as Xavier's spy within the Club. Shaw was also joined by Roberto Da Costa, aka Sunspot of the New Mutants. It made sense that Da Costa was there, since his father had been a member of the club and he was also a member. This entire scheme was essentially a coup for Shaw and his supporters to once again lead the Hellfire Club back to prominence. But - the major difference here being that this Hellfire Club would work for mutant rights, instead of just being a breeding ground for wealthy and evil. One of the club's first goals was to end the mutant slaving ring in Japan, which was why the Hellfire Club was there. Storm had great reservations about this, and implored Sage and Roberto to quit this foolishness. Yet Sage believed in this goal, and in the good she could do within the Hellfire Club again.

The machinations of her plans where finally explained, as Donald Pierce, White Bishop of the Hellfire Club, attacked with an army of technologically prepared soldiers. Pierce was human, but also a cyborg - and was a decidedly deadly match against Wolverine and Shaw. Pierce was attacking, not wanting to let Shaw get away with seizing so much power and leaving him out. The X-Men eventually beat him, and Sage's plan became clear: She had counted on Pierce attacking to stop Shaw - and had lead the X-Men here for the purpose of defeating Pierce and removing him as an obstacle. Likewise, the reason the two groups where separated was so Emma and Rachel could take down the Slaver's ring in Japan. The X-Men where not pleased about being so manipulated, but Sage was adamant in her decision.

While I thought Sage returning to Hellfire Club was interesting, it seemed all too quickly that she was leaving the team. I know that she later went on to be a member in Claremont's New Excalibur, and then the Exiles (both of which I haven't read) - so this might have been what Claremont had intended all along. Still, I wish he had decided to keep her.

The next story arch was a big one, 5-issues long. The X-Men get a big surprise - as they are called to Spain. This was the place where they had lost Psylocke. In the first three issues of X-Treme X-Men Claremont had killed her. He had intended revive her soon afterwords, but this was very poorly timed - as Marvel had instated a new policy of "Dead is Dead", and comic book resurrections where no longer to take place. This rule was lifted a while ago, and now Claremont was finally free to bring back everyone's favorite British/Asian/Ninja Psylocke back to life.

Psylocke's reappearance, though, was fraught with mystery. She had reappeared right where she had been killed (inside a government facility, no less) - so the X-Men had to take custody of Psylocke, but where very weary of her. Even for the X-Men, Psylocke was VERY dead. An autopsy had been preformed. Yet here she was - alive and well. Could she be an impostor? Speculation got side-tracked, though, as the X-Men responded to an emergency call from Wolverine's plane in the Savage Land.

The X-Men flew from Spain to the Antarctic, where the Savage Land, a perceptual dinosaur paradise was located. (The X-Men have visited here a lot) Wolverine had gone there for an old friend. Wolverine had been attacked, though, by a new group in the Savage Land: the Hauk'ka. Unknown to Wolverine, X-23 had snuck aboard his plane. After being attacked and separated from Wolverine, X-23 went back to the plane and sent the distress call to the other X-Men.

When the X-Men arrive they leave X-23 and Betsy (restrained) alone on the plane and go out searching for Wolverine. They eventually run into the Hauk'ka, evolved humanoid dinosaurs - so advanced they even had their own super-heroes. One of the Hauk'ka was a skilled telepath and was able to implant a thought into Marvel Girl's mind - making her think she was like them; a humanoid dinosaur. It worked like nothing else - as Rachel instantly turned against her friends and helped get them captured. The effect on Rachel wasn't just mental, either, as her powers of telekinesis enabled her to slowly start rearranging the DNA in her body, to help more reflect the appearance of a humanoid dinosaur, like she believed she was. This in effect became a cruel circle of effect, as her transforming appearance helped reinforce the original alteration in her mind, and vise-versa.

Meanwhile Hauk'ka soldiers came to the plane where Psylocke and X-23 where. X-23 freed Psylocke to help fight and defeat the enemies. They then decided to go and help their friends, who they now feared might be in danger.

The Hauk'ka had a simple goal - they wanted to take back the planet that originally belonged to them. They quickly found out, trying to keep Storm prisoner, how powerful her ability to command the weather was. The Hauk'ka saw an opportunity. Along with Rachel's tremendous powers - they figured they could use Rachel's abilities to amplify Storm's powers - and create world ending storms all across the world. Nightcrawler and Bishop soon broke free and where able to join with other outcast residents of the Savage Land to fight against the Hauk'ka. They also regrouped with Psylocke and X-23, and Psylocke found out something very surprising - her powers had changed since she last used them. Before she had died, Betsy had traded in telepathy for telekinesis. This was still in effect after her resurrection - but her telekinesis was now explosively more powerful - making her super strong.

The combined forces of the Savage Land and the X-Men attacked the Hauk'ka citidel, intent on stopping the Hauk'ka. The Hauk'ka had already begun their attack on the world, with Storm being forced by Rachel to create storms like she had never done before. The entire world was hit by devastating snow storms - so severe they would quickly become extinction events if not stopped. The X-Men even managed to convinced the Hauk'ka superheroes of their folly, as even the Savage Land was being frozen into oblivion. The Hauk'ka who had altered Rachel's mind released her - and it was as much a struggle to reign back in the storms as it was to create them.

The end of the world was everted, and the regretful Hauk'ka made peace with the other residents of the Savage Land. Rachel was slowly turning back to human and the X-Men where able to leave hoping the chance for peace with the Hauk'ka would last.

All in all this was a very fun story - but I quickly realized that Wolverine's disappearance had been completely forgotten. This story arch was also criticized, as it was somewhat derivative of the X-Men's last trip to the Savage Land, during an X-Treme X-Men Mini-series. I personally think Alan Davis simply wanted to draw humanoid dinosaurs again. He's drawn them many times before in alternate universes in the pages of Excalibur.

The next issue seemed like a resting point - as a lot of events in other X-Books had caught up during the previous 5-issue arch. Claremont did a beautiful job of tying it all in as we where lead through Betsy's perspective of returning to a very different Xavier Institute. A lot had changed since Psylocke had died. The X-Men where public now - and had a much larger group of children attending the school. Jean Grey had died - and Colossus had returned back to life. It became quite the running joke about deaths and resurrections. Chris Claremont had been opposed to the original revival of Jean Grey, feeling that it had cheapened the risk of death in comics. Still, since it did indeed happen - I think he's come to accept it, and even take advantage of it with Psylocke, but I believe he must have been somewhat annoyed at such a cluster of resurrections and deaths all over the X-Men map all at once. It seemed like anyone who died, it was only a matter of time that they came back to life. It was even mentioned that Northstar died as well, and sure enough he was brought back to life several months later. Wolverine being missing was also addressed, and I believe why he was suddenly taken out of the dinosaur storyline. In the pages of his book Mark Millar was writing a story where Hydra captured Wolverine and turned him against his friends. I simply don't know how he got from the Savage Land back to the Xavier Institute. (It's simply a lack of communication between writers and editors. Go figure.)

The X-Men next got an unpleasant visit by Mojo and Spiral. Juggernaut and Nocturne had been sucked into another dimension in another X-Men book - and had apparently been captured by Mojo. Mojo, a ruler of an alternate dimension dedicated to entertainment has been a longtime foe of the X-Men. Mojo also brought back another old favorite "The X-Babies" - where the X-Men are reduced in age to cute little kids. This was an adorable and fun issue where these young X-Men fought against Mojo. I don't know weather Claremont had been saddled with the fate of Juggernaut and Nocturne, or had asked to use them - but he really made them shine in this issue. Juggernaut was able to resolve some issues he had been dealing with, and Nocturne got to reunite with her alternate-dimensional father Nightcrawler. (Nocturne is from another reality where another Nightcrawler had a child with the Scarlet Witch. Even though they aren't really related, the two had apparently bonded.) Mojo was eventually defeated. It was just a fun and silly issue.

In part three of my retrospective, the Marvel Universe gets a make-over when it's turned into the House of M.

Click here for Part 3

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