Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti
With the eulogy to their previous lives delivered last issue in Deadly Games! , with this story entitled Down Under we officially jump into the next era of the Uncanny X-Men! It begins in the city Singapore and features a gaggle of complete strangers…for now.
The first thing about this issue that strikes me reading as an adult is the amount of information Chris Claremont delivers his readers about the location in which he sets his story. The first page tell us about the size of the island, its population size, its location in the world, and sets up Singapore’s place in the world as a “…mingling cutting edge 21st century technology with traditional, Old World courtesy”. It’s an info dump for sure but for those unfamiliar with Singapore, it provides an identity, a sense of place, and of life to this initial setting. It offers the reader something more than “Location: Singapore…GO!” before it all descend into hell:
At the proverbial drop of a dime, The Hoan Bank is under assault from cybernetic beings that identify themselves as The Reavers in the final panel of the page. Simultaneously they also name one specific member as Pretty Boy, a heart on his left cheek his indentifying marker, while tagging the one with a tank treads for legs as the leader of the crew.
The double page spread pictured above showcases a pair of hallmarks of this creative team that have always stood out to me and, in re-reading the material, continue to do so. The first is the way in which different characters are given different patterns of speech. Pretty Boy, while looking like a cyborg thug, uses the word indubitably when speaking which contradicts his supposed nature while the “fearless leader” speaks in conjunctions. It’s something I discussed before when I took a look at my very first comic book here <http://sequart.org/magazine/30025/accessibility-and-the-x-men-a-2-part-look-at-my-first-comic/> on Sequart, and will always remain something I believe vital to crafting whole characters. Throughout comics, not just in this specific one, these are different people with differing backgrounds from differing locations and they should not sound the same. Since this is the realm of comic books and sound is an impossibility, the only way to convey those differences is to have their dialogue look different to the reader.
That concept of sound in comics is what marks the second thing I wanted to point out: Tom Orzechowski’s lettering. Specifically the way in which he depicts the gunfire’s sound effects as The Reavers wreak their havoc on the bank, its customers, and owners. The sounds stand out in their size and most notably their coloring; it’s as if each weapon firing on this page has its own unique signature shade. It’s something small, likely unnoticed most of the time, but it is a detail that adds just a little bit of extra life to the chaos Silvestri, Green, and Oliver unleash on the page with their images.
The subsequent page, as the Reavers attempt to physically threaten vault codes out of the bank president, adds an extra touch to the use of verbiage differentiating characters. On this page the word bubbles of one of the The Reavers, identified as Skullbuster, are actually encircled with a somewhat jagged line that, for me at least, implies a menacing, gravely tone to his voice, one that befits a man with a skull painted on his face.
Skullbuster, as you would expect, crushes the throat of the president after his niece informs the Reaver that he cannot do what the cyborg want. In this page we get a better visual on Pretty Boy that does, in fact, establish him as living up to his name (at least amidst this motley crew of half-men/half-machines) as well attaches a name to the niece beyond Miss Hoan. She is Jessan Hoan, “Financial wiz. Par excellence” according to Pretty Boy, and a potential recruit as well. The man who was earlier referred to as the leader slaps another name on her, one with which the current readers of the assorted Wolverine titles will be familiar: Tiger, or rather Tyger Tyger. Yes, Uncanny X-Men #229 marks the debut of one of the longest enduring members of the X-Men’s supporting cast but she isn’t the only one this issue.
As our location transitions to the Australian Outback, replete with the same sort of details and descriptors that Claremont included for the Singapore setting, we are finally provided with a name for The Reavers leader (Bonebreaker) and are also introduced to their method of transportation: an Aboriginal mutant named Gateway. As with the future Tyger Tyger, Gateway’s presence in the X-Universe has persisted throughout the years since his debut here in 1988. Years down the line he became an integral part of the tapestry when it was revealed that he is the Great-Grandfather of the future-born Bishop and Shard. Still, his presence in the World of X came to an apparent end in Uncanny X-Force #27 when his neck was snapped by the Weapon Plus Program’s Ultimaton. Whether or not he ever produced the necessary children to lead to Bishop and Shard’s birth is unknown…
Inside this Outback town we get to see just how The Reavers live and is exactly what one would expect; hard partying and disgusting. However there is one member of their unit, Pretty Boy, who has another agenda on his mind besides drunken oblivion and it involves one Jessan Hoan.
For any reader unfamiliar with her back story, it is this page that bridges the gap between the Tyger Tyger that the modern reader has experienced in stories such as the recently released Savage Wolverine #12 & 13 and the one that was first introduced back here in ’88. It is the psychic abuse perpetrated by Pretty Boy that opens the doors for this respectable banker to transform into a crime lord but that is a story told largely in the inaugural Wolverine arc of Marvel Comics Presents and continued in Wolverine Vol. 2. As for the page itself, what I most appreciate is the detail given to Hoan’s smile as Pretty Boy does his work. First it’s the shocked and horrified face of panel 5 that gives way to what I would characterize as a “zoned out” look in panel 6 before turning into a relaxed countenance in panel 7 before finally, as the mental transformation begins to take its hold, it becomes a blissful smile. Combined with the words Claremont puts into the mouth of Pretty Boy, it creates a rather horrifying scene as we are witnessing this woman’s identity being stripped away.
It is ten pages before we see our first X-Men in this book but what a powerful first appearance they make as Storm, Psylocke, and Havok combine their talents to unleash their own sort of hell upon The Reavers. Sequences like this showcase just how much of a TEAM the X-Men can be when operating at their finest. These aren’t individuals who happen to be fighting the same villain; they are a unit that has trained to use their powers in synchronicity with one another. The fashion in which Storm’s winds give way to Psylocke’s telepathy which in turn creates an opening for Havok to…well…create an opening which then allows Dazzler and Longshot to save Jessan Hoan demonstrates their superior team function.
The page pictured above, as well as the subsequent ones highlighting Longshot and Dazzler’s rescue, continue to use the characters respective world balloons and lettering to illustrate differences. Psylocke’s telepathic communication is given its own design to differentiate it from the thoughts of Storm and the image of Psylocke’s butterfly effect over Storm’s face is one that visually communicates the team unity expertly.
The Dazzler/Longshot scene provides us with a brief moment of insight into Longshot thanks to Dazzler’s observations on his reaction to Pretty Boy’s mind-rape of Jessan (“He’s so angry, as though the same thing had been done to hi…”). The scene also allows the creative team to insert some levity into the moment with Dazzler’s clumsiness and the fashion in which her thoughts are lettered.
The sound effects/lettering take center stage once again when Rogue and Colossus enter The Reavers base to take the fight directly to the cyborg thugs. It is, of course, a violent scene but one that simultaneously allows the reader to learn a little bit about the team members. We learn a bit about how Rogue’s power work when Bonebreaker grabs her and, as a result, also garner some insight into how Havok feels about using his powers, even on a villain more machine than man (“…it still gives me the creeps when I blast ‘em like that”). It might not be new information but, as many a man has said before, an author never knows if their audience is a first-timer or a lifer so these little details help paint a fuller picture for the reader.
The next sequence, the one that finally introduces Wolverine into the story, is only eight panels with hardly any text at all but the Silvestri/Green/Oliver art shows the reader exactly what they need to know: do not mess with this man. It is displays like this that surely caused me to fall in love with the character in my early years as a comic book fan. How can you not rally behind a man who is depicted as being the absolute best AND has those cool claws?
With the core members of The Reavers (Pretty Boy, Bonebreaker, and Skullbuster) fleeing the scene via one final Gateway teleport, it leaves the X-Men with the decision of just what to do with the remaining members of the group. That choice is one that illustrates the differences between the individuals that comprise this team. For Wolverine, Rogue, and Psylocke the choice seems simple enough: kill them. For Colossus, Rogue, Psylocke, and Storm that is not even an option. The Goddess Roma (last seen during the Fall of the Mutants arc that set the stage for where we are now) instead appears with a viable alternative in the form of the Siege Perilous. In the comic the Siege is a giant gem which allows a person to step through it, be judged by the highest of powers according to Roma, and then they are essentially allowed to reboot their lives. As for the name, it comes from Arthurian legend and is the seat at The Round Table reserved for the knight (either Galahad or Percival) who recovers the Holy Grail <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_Perilous>. For anyone else, the seat is fatal.
When presented with the choice of death by Wolverine or the unknown of The Siege, the cyborgs take the uncertain fate the gem presents but, unfortunately, there is also the problem of Jessan Hoan’s involvement in this situation. The X-Men are presumed dead, she now knows better, and while she very nearly takes the Siege trip, it is Madelyne Pryor, the only non-mutant member of the team (making her first appearance in this issue) who first stands up for Ms. Hoan. Havok then makes a plea for having trust someone here to which Roma then returns Jessan to Singapore, allowing her story to continue in the pages of other comics….
In the final page of the issue, the future of the team is set as is their place in the world. After the X-Men deny her offer to make the Siege trip themselves, Roma makes them invisible to all forms of observation save the naked eye and the equipment in The Reavers base. She also entrusts the team with the Siege Perilous, “…the first so charged, so honored in over a thousand years” she says, and leaving them with “…the opportunity and capability to lead your world to the brightest or darkest of destinies”. Prophetic words knowing the path this decision to relocate takes their lives down…
So with a new base of operations and a new lease on life (via “death”), the Outback era of the Uncanny X-Men gets underway in issue #230 but since I covered that previously in the Merry Marvel Mutant X-Mas < http://sequart.org/magazine/38081/a-merry-marvel-mutant-x-mas/> article that spawned this endeavor, next up I will take a look at #231 and its focus on Colossus.