Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run Part 3


Continuing my retrospective of Chris Claremont's Third Uncanny X-Men Run. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2


The House of M was a mini-series written by Brian Michael Bendis and Oliver Coipel, where the Scarlet Witch changes reality to an idea of paradise - specifically one where mutants are the dominant species on the planet and ruled by Lord Magneto. The huge alteration of the Marvel Universe has much larger implications, as it begins to disrupt the entire Omniverse of other dimensions. This is where Captain Britain takes center stage to save the Universe. You see, Roma, Protector of the Multiverse, has a duty to protect all dimensions, even if it means destroying one to save them all. Opal Luna Saturnyne, as Roma's Omniversal Majestrix, is all too eager to destroy Earth 616. (The designation for the regular Marvel Universe) Saturnyne has long seen Earth 616 as an unending series of cosmic disasters, which threatens the collective whole of the Omniverse - and, in all honestly, she's right. All too many events have come from Earth 616, the House of M only being the latest. Captain Britain fights to stop Saturnyne, and even faces off against her personal body guards, who are all male versions of female X-Men characters. This was a bit funny to see, as Brain had to face off against even a male version of his sister Psylocke. His entire universe is at stake, though, so he presses on and defeats them. Saturnyne approaches the device which will destroy the Marvel Universe with but a thought. But, before she can do anything, Jamie Braddock pops in. Jamie is the mad reality altering older brother of Captain Britain and Psylocke - and has the power enough to destroy the device, giving Earth 616 a reprieve. With the device destroyed Earth 616 is safe, but not for long. It will take 48 hours to repair the device, and Roma, who is much less eager to annihilate universes than Saturnyne, tells Brain he has that long to correct the damage in Earth 616 - but that she would not hesitate to destroy the Universe for the sake of the entire Omniverse. Brain leaps head first into his now altered home dimension, but with a warning from Roma to not be subsumed by the trappings of this new universe.


Before the House of M occured, and the Universe changed, the X-Men where in a battle against some foes. When the alteration of reality hits, Psylocke and Marvel Girl protect themselves with their shared telekinesis, saving them from the alteration of the universe. There is nothing left but them, in an empty void of white. They are able to see ghost images of themselves from other dimensions. Rachel expresses how there are only a few versions of her to see. Before long they too are absorbed into the House of M - and along with Captain Britain their entire world changes.


In the House of M Captain Britain is now King of England; his wife, Meggan, is queen. Psylocke is a Princess, but has opted for a life of adventure with her friend and companion Rachel Grey. Everything seems fine - as Psylocke and Rachel return home to Braddock Manor for a party Brain is hosting. Sentinels line the grounds of the manor, supposedly having been brought in for security.


Everything is right with the world - until warnings begin to stir in King Braddock's mind of his true mission here. His wife Meggan, an elemental shape-shifter, is extremely connected to the multiverse - and also shows signs trying to remind Brain of his mission. Things begin to get side-tracked, though, as Psylocke and Rachel encounter Marauders - bounty hunters for Lord Magneto - who are seeking an anomalous person who, their sensor's tell shares Magneto's blood-line. Rachel and Psylocke end up defending this person, who we discover is Nocturne. Nocturne was already an alternate dimensional anomaly before the House of M, coming from a dimension where she is the daughter of Nightcrawler and Scarlet Witch. Being subsumed in the new reality, her DNA from the Scarlet Witch is no doubt why she is being tracked. Nocturne has the ability to possess other people, and is able to hide in Rachel for safety. Captain Britain confronts the Marauders - telling them to move on. Even though they are not from this country, Lord Magneto is a powerful political force in the world - and the Marauder's orders are not to be dismissed that easily. The Marauders eventually do leave, having lost track of Nocturne when she possessed Rachel. Again, Brain is reminded of the true reason he is here.


A rift in the very fabric of reality is soon discovered by Rachel and Psylocke. In a direct nod to the old Excalibur books - the rift is right under the Lighthouse which was home to Excalibur back then. Rachel and Psylocke investigate the rift, but are soon attacked again by the Marauders. Meanwhile Captain Britain has finally awakened and remembered everything - and he and Meggan are soon to join them - but not before a new threat from Magneto arrives: Omega Sentinel (a character from the second Excalibur series, by Claremont, which was set in Genosha), a half human/half sentinel woman Karima Shapandar arrives, taking control of the Sentinels and attacking Brain. Omega Sentinel charges King Braddock with treason against Magneto - and the punishment is death. With time rappidly running out Brain and Meggan fight their way through the Sentinels and defeat Omega Sentinel as well. They quickly make haste to the rift.


At the rift the Marauders are beaten and Captain Britain and Meggan arrive. Psylocke and Rachel try to seal the rift with their powers - but the wound on the universe is deep. Meggan, being especially attuned to the universe, realizes what she has to do. What she was meant to do all along. She goes into the rift, to sacrifice herself and seal it. Meggan is successful in her task, and Roma no longer has to destroy Earth 616 with only seconds to spare. Yet Captain Britain has lost his wife.


This entire story line was probably a mandatory tie-in, as books all over where telling tales taking place in the House of M universe. This was probably one of the more meaningful and important tie-ins of that event - as it had real repercussions for the Marvel Universe after everything changed back. I'm speaking mostly of Meggan - who I did not realize at first was actually dead (or lost, or whatever) - I thought she was safe because it was her House of M version who sacrificed herself - but, nope - when Chris Claremont launched his new title "New Excalibur" (the third iteration of the series) Captain Britain served on the team, but without Meggan there with him. Despite the loss of such a beloved character - this entire arch was simply wonderful. Alan Davis got to revisit a lot of the Captain Britain mythos he had once had a hand in. Considering how tailor made this story was for him, I was surprised when Chris Bachalo was named new regular artist and finished the final two issues. Bachalo did an excellent job, but I think the story definitely must have had Alan Davis in mind.

After the House of M was over and reality was restored - there where a lot of repercussions left for the X-Men to deal with. The Scarlet Witch had used her powers, declaring "No More Mutants" - and when reality was restored, 99% of the mutant population were no more. Only less than 200 characters (mostly X-Men, naturally) retained their X-Gene. In everyone else - the Gene was completely erased. Mutants had become so prolific, that in Grant Morrison's opening issues - it was estimated that within 4 generations mutants would be the dominant species on the planet. Now, overnight, the mutant race was on the brink of extinction. No one but the X-Men and Avengers, who helped return the world straight again, remembered what happened - so to the world at large the reason for the Mutant Decimation was unknown. It became known as M-Day. A lot of things changed for the X-Men. The institute grounds became a refugee camp, taking in any mutants who needed protection. The government also wanted to protect them, but they had a funny way of showing it - as they parked 5 Sentinels around the Institute grounds - and kept constant surveillance on all of the X-Men. Valerie Cooper was in charge of the troops there - and the 5 Sentinels where piloted by humans and outfitted with the most cutting edge tech. Cyclops and Emma where dealing with the situation, filing lawsuits to get the Government off of their property - but their efforts where going nowhere. The X-Men decided to bide their time and wait for when to fight back against being forced into a perceived mutant ghetto.

It should be noted that during this time Storm was over in Africa when M-Day hit. It was agreed upon that she should stay there, to give the X-Men more options in having someone outside of the government's reach. This left Bishop and Nightcrawler the shared duties of leading the team. Also - Cannonball, who had been removed from the series so quickly before, was back. (The X-Force thing hadn't lasted long, only being a mini-series.) Chris Bachalo redesigned Bishop and Cannonball's uniforms as well.


The next story arch focused on the new mutant status-quo, but mainly focused on Rachel Grey - who was invited to spend time with her grandparents and relatives. Being from an alternate time-line, Rachel's integration with her grandparents was not an easy one - but the grandfather especially seemed to cherish the opportunity to welcome her, having recently lost their daughter (Jean Grey) again. The grandmother was less trilled, but didn't show it. She blamed Xavier for stealing her daughter away from them. A big Grey family reunion was planned - and Rachel got the rare opportunity to meet relatives of hers who had all since died in her time-line.

Things went bad, very, very quickly. A Shi'ar Death Squad had been assembled and deployed with one simple mission: kill every living member of the Grey Family, and erase their genome from the Universe. In the Spacefaring Shi'ar's mythology the entity known as the Phoenix means the end all things. When Jean Grey was the Phoenix and lost control of the entity - it had destroyed an entire planet. The Shi'ar where the original ones who wanted Jean Grey dead, which was famously played out in the classic Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean had died, sacrificing herself then. She had, of course, revived - but had recently died again in X-Men comics. With Jean Grey and her bond with the Phoenix gone - the Shi'ar had decided to eliminate any more possibilities of the Phoenix ever taking another host - and that meant annihilating the entire Grey genome. Within the course of 24 seconds, the next issue showed the alien Death Squad murdering every member of the Grey Family. Rachel was stunned beyond belief, and her psychic cry for help brought Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, and Cannonball. The Grey's house was only 50 miles from the Xavier Institute, so Nightcrawler was able to teleport everyone over in one jaunt. They where in such a hurry Psylocke wasn't even given time to get cloths, going in her bathrobe of all things. The battle against the aliens was fierce, and all paced out within the the aforementioned 24 seconds. Only Rachel and her grandmother where still alive, and Rachel was ceremoniously branded with a trackable tattoo of a phoenix on her back - making it so the Shi'ar could find her no matter where she fled.


The other X-Men eventually arrived at the residence, with government Sentinels in toe to help. Now branded and traumatized, Rachel faced the cruelest blow of the whole evening. Rachel's grandmother slapped her, saying she was a monster and denying her as family. Her entire family was dead now, and she blamed everything on Rachel. Soon the lead Shi'ar Squad leader dealt the final blow and murdered Mrs. Grey. By this point the Death Squad were contained, and Cyclops at the front door was tempted to finish these murders off. The government soldiers along with the X-Men warned Cyclops to stand down and let them arrest them instead. He complied. Rachel and Cyclops where able to have a long overdue father/daughter moment as they consoled each other over their loss. Kitty Pryde tries to tell Rachel that her grandmother hadn't meant what she said - but Rachel told her as a telepath she couldn't be fooled, her grandmother had meant every word.

This story was probably one of the most emotionally powerful stories in the entire run. The out of the blue sheer brutality was just haunting. While killing characters for effect in comics is nothing new - this didn't come across like that. This was a specific story about all the family Rachel had never had, and then loosing them all over again. It was probably one of Rachel's defining moments - and her struggle to heal from the trauma would not be washed over, as it's dealt with in the next story arch. Also - this story seemed like a definitive merging of Claremont's script and Bachalo's art. It all seemed expertly intertwined - showing a great compatibility between artist and writer.


The next story arch is drawn by Billy Tan, who would soon take over as artist on Uncanny X-Men when Ed Brubaker took over after Claremont's run. His art was exceptionally good in these issues. It began with a rather ponient comparison - telling how, in her alternate future, Rachel had lived in a concentration camp for mutants, watched over by Sentinels who had destroyed humanity; which was a striking parallel to the Sentinels now watching over the Xavier Institute. The subject of personal privacy became a bit sticking point in this arch, as the government agents monitoring the X-Men where invading their privacy. Leonard Samson, superhero psychiatrist in the Marvel Universe, came to visit and help Rachel through pain she was dealing with. Things became a non-started when Rachel realized her sessions where being monitored. Without being able to have privacy, Rachel began a plan. She began sneaking out to rent movies - to gauge how tight the security around the mansion was.


Meanwhile, during these trying times, Bishop was actively trying to build a working relationship with Valerie Cooper and the soldiers. He tried to encourage cooperation - and even suggested the X-Men look at the Sentinels as a resource instead of enemies. The X-Men weren't prisoners, per say, but the government wanted them to log their excursions outside the mansion grounds - and potentially assign a Sentinel to accompany them. Bishop got clearence to go into New York, and offered to help Val out by checking and making sure the Shi'ar Death Squad where still locked up in prison.

Rachel's secretive trips outside the school grounds where intially trail runs for her real goal - to go see a psychiatrist Kitty Pryde had recommended to her. Without her sessions being monitored Rachel was able to more fully deal with the emotions of what happened to her family. She reasoned that even though she had come to the past to change her post-apocalyptic future, that somehow the universe was re-balancing the scales. If her relatives didn't die because of the Sentiels, then they would die by Shi'ar hands - that they were meant to die no matter what she tried to do.

Eventually Rachel's disappearance got noticed by Valerie Cooper. At the same time Bishop had come to where the Shi'ar Death Squad where being held and was witness to their escape as well. The Sentinel accompanying Bishop helped to try and stop their escape - but the aliens had help from a Shi'ar vessel above in space who transported them directly to where Rachel was. Rachel had to fight to save her psychiatrist's life - while the X-Men and the Sentinels converged on the location. While the fight was going on the Shi'ar vessel in orbit fired a beam down upon the city. This attack would have destroyed the entire city - but Rachel and Psylocke where able to use their shared telekinesis to deflect the beam back at the vessel. Seeing that they where betrayed by their own, the Death Squad gave up. After this event it was passed along through Bishop that Rachel was grounded for her sneaking out. She was at least able to continue her therapy sessions with the psychiatrist through telepathy.


The next story arch is what this entire run has been building towards. At the time I was buying these comics - I had neglected to get a number of issues, and later came back to buy the ones I was missing. I saw that some of the final three issues before Ed Brubaker's run where written by Tony Bedard. I could see it was a three part story, and I was already buying enough issues all at once as it was - so I decided to skip those issues, figuring it was just a fill-in story. Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong - and I now feel a bit guilty for having given up on those last three issues just because another writer was listed. See, I didn't know it at the time, but Chris Claremont had a health scare and ended up in the hospital. He was diagnosed with Cardiac Stress - and had to step back from his writing duties for a while. So this wasn't a change in writer for nothing - which makes me feel like I had kicked the man's final work to the curb, not knowing the reasons behind his absence. Regardless - I ended up recently buying these three issues, which is what prompted this re-reading and retrospective I've done here.


The final story arch was the culmination of Psylocke's rebirth and explanation for many of the occurrences done by Jamie Braddock during the run. Braddock makes a splash suddenly appearing at the Xavier Institute, teasing and making fun of the government agents and the X-Men alike. Eventually Psylocke was able to hit Jamie with her psychic katanna, stopping her brother's antics. Jamie wasn't there for no reason, though. He claimed he was there to warn the X-Men of a horrible event, and how he had resurrected his sister for this very danger. See, Jamie is able to alter reality around him, described as pulling on the strings of reality. When he had revived Psylocke, he had tried to tie all the loose threads that encompassed Betsy's life as tight as possible - which would protect her and make her a weapon against what was coming. This was why, ever since her resurrection, Betsy had been immune to psychic probes, and wasn't able to be changed into a little kid by Mojo. Everyone wondered if Jamie had also been responsible for the appearance of the Fury. Nightcrawler dismissed that, explaining that Jamie's ability to change reality was confined to his proximity. Yet Rachel theorized that since Jamie can pull at the strings of reality, maybe all he needed to do was create a Butterfly Effect - and set things in motion. The X-Men where suspicious of Jamie's warnings, until the Watcher appeared in the sky. An icon of the Marvel Universe, the Watcher is vowed to observe, but never interfere. He does, however, make his presence known at important events in history. The threat Jamie warned of warranted the Watcher's attention.


The threat Jamie had been preparing for was called the Fouksaken. Back when Jamie was younger, and before he went mad, he and his friends where in a racing competition in the desert. Jamie and these three other friends where longtime mates and troublemakers, having been bounced from school to school in their youth; they got the nickname "The Foursaken" because of this. Their race through the desert was halted by a sandstorm where a powerful being appeared before them. Jamie had run away and got separated from his friends. This being was called the First Fallen, and it wanted to grant these four friends powers and to be his agents in heralding a new dawn for the world. Jamie was suppose to be a part of this, but because he got lost he had been left out.


Before long Jamie was stolen away, sucked into a hole inside himself - leaving the X-Men many questions. The Watcher helped fill in the rest of the details. It seems the First Fallen was the duel opposite side of the Phoenix; it's male counter-part. While the Phoenix's job was to bring destruction and rebirth - the First Fallen desired to break the cycle of death and resurrection.


The X-Men eventually where lead to a museum where the Foursaken where preparing their ritual. The three members of the Foursaken had very different powers. One was able to generate electricity, another was able to create and control machines - and the third, a woman, was able to summon flying salamander lizards to do her bidding. (I know, strange!) Part of the ritual the three members of the Foursaken where preforming required the theft of souls from all over town, carried away by the salamanders. The X-Men tried to stop this, but where stopped - with only Psylocke remaining and hidden. Jamie was held prisoner, being forced to play his part in the ritual. Only Betsy, immune to the soul stealing spells, was able to act - and she managed to ruin some part of the incantation. But the spell still took effect anyway, and everyone in the museum was sucked into a vortex into a new world.


Psylocke awoke to find a completely different world. She was separated from her friends, but was greeted by the First Fallen, appearing like a winged egyptian pharaoh. He expressed to her that maybe she had been expecting fire and brimstone - as before her was a lush desert town - not the end of the world as they had feared. Aliens of all sorts numbered among the citizens of this place. Betsy followed the First Fallen towards her friends. The other X-Men, Bishop, Cannonball, Marvel Girl, and Nightcrawler where all here - along with Jamie and his former friends the Foursaken. A fight was about to break out, but they all quickly became aware how this so-called paradise was maintained; no one could raise a hand against each other. When Betsy and the First Fallen met with the others it was apparent that the X-Men did not approve of this world. Psylocke picked up on something very quickly - noticing that out of all the various alien species, there where only four of each race. The First Fallen explained that he collects the people of the worlds he encounters, and saves only four of them - with the rest cast to the side and frozen in time. This is how he ends the cycle of death and rebirth - by putting four people into his realm, blessed with eternal life and happiness - and the memory of their civilization can last forever. None of this is good to hear, as it means the First Fallen has been absorbing civilizations like this for eons. Because of how Jamie had brought her back to life, Psylocke was unaffected by the First Fallen and was able to attack him, striking his head with her Psychic Katanna. This paralyzed the First Fallen, and it became apparent that the man they saw was merely the host, and he asked for them to kill him. The First Fallen's control over the many people in this paradise disappeared as well - and they where angry. Eventually the host of the First Fallen was killed - but this only released the entity, ready to destroy them all. Jamie, however, stepped in - porting everyone back to the real world, and facing the creature alone. Once back in the restored real world the three members of the Foursaken left to find a new purpose in life. It was questioned by the X-Men why, if Betsy was suppose to be Jamie's weapon to fight against the First Fallen, why did he sacrifice himself. It's thought that maybe, for once, Jamie couldn't go through with using his younger sister as a disposable pawn.


This story arch was good - but definitely not great. I have no idea how it might have been different if Claremont had been able to finish it himself, but Tony Bedard managed to put together a semi-interesting outcome. Chris Bachalo was only able to do art in the first issue of this three-parter, which was a further disappointment. Still, it at least brought Psylocke's resurrection to a meaningful conclusion.


All during these last few archs a secondary plot-line was developing concerning Storm in Africa. She had been over there, finding many villages that where once protected by mutants, which where destroyed by a warlord known as Colonel Shetani. Storm's quest lead her to the town of Turkana - and she finally called in the rest of the X-Men for help in taking this warlord down. This all lead into an Annual, by Claremont but finished by Tony Bedard. Clayton Henry was on art - and he provided some truly wonderful work. The Annual begins with Storm crushed under a collapsed building. She's badly hurt and hallucinating. She had recently been proposed to by King T'Challa, the Black Panther and King of Wakanda. She was unsure of wether to say yes, and had a self examination of her life through these dreams. Meanwhile the other X-Men, having arrived in Turkana, arrived there only in time for the building they where in to be hit by a missle launcher. The X-Men couldn't help Storm right away, as they where pinned down in a fierce firefight. They eventually decided to attack the main location of Colonel Shetani. Meanwhile, once Storm has found answers in her dreams, she awakes to find child soldiers who where sent by Shetani to find her. These boys had been raised as murders, called "The Little Simbas". So angered by the inhumanity Shetani has created Storm was able to raise herself back up, taking down the little Simbas and flying directly to where Shetani was, with no regard for the damage her powers could do to the city. She captures Shetani and flies him up into the air - asking why he's done these things, and specifically why he had been hunting for mutants, and murdering former mutants. To Storm's surprise, he replied that it was because he was her Uncle. Defeated Shetani leads the X-Men to an unspoiled village where Storm's mother had come from. Storm discovered a grandmother she had never known and found out so much about her family and past. This helped bring into focus the decision she had been dwelling upon, deciding to accept T'Challa's proposal of marriage. This issue was labeled as prelude to the big wedding issue in the pages of Black Panther.

So - that's it. That was the last issue of Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont, covering the entire run of his third tenure on the title. I hope a few people might have enjoyed this little retrospective. I did it more because I wanted to re-read those issues, as I now had more appreciation for them, knowing far more about Claremont's past works on Captain Britain and Excalibur. I know many people have viewed Claremont's modern-day return to Marvel with some skepticism, feeling that he hasn't changed or improved his storytelling. In point of fact, he indeed hasn't - and that's probably the best thing about his writing. It's familiar X-Men adventures, with all the soap-opera drama his original issues where known for. I just hope more people might appreciate these more modern issues - as once he began writing X-Treme X-Men, he really got back to making the great X-Men comics we all remember and love. I know he's sort of retreated from the regular Marvel Universe to focus on writing X-Men Forever. I do wish he'd come back to the regular series - because as much fun as it must be to revisit old ground and explore what the X-Men might have been like if he had never quit in the early 90s -I believe he can still tell great X-Men stories, like these issues, again.

4 comments:

  1. You have quite a bit more patience than I do. I came back to collecting my precious X-Men titles and everything is different. It's all because of House of M. I have put off reading anything involving HoM for fear of my head exploding. I think it's time I faced my fears and opened my mind to quantum reality warping. I hate that plot device, btw, but it did add a bit of interest to the mutant struggle.
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  2. I could not believe it when even Joey and Gaylin were killed... I certainly did not expect that...

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  3. I haven't purchased an X-Men issue in awhile, but I am diggin that art. I love that drawing of injured Storm. :)

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  4. I didn't realize this was one blog post, I also wanted to say that I love Chris Claremont's style, I have a lot of his comics from years ago, he drew Rougue with really cute bangs and black lipstick. :)

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