To the Outback & Beyond… Part 3


Technically speaking, well rather chronologically speaking, the next issue to be addressed in this look back at my formative X-Men years would be #230.  Since I already addressed that story here on the site, I will take a leap forward to the following issue…

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Rick Leonardi
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti

Titled “…Dressed for Dinner!”, this issue is marked right from the get-go as taking place after the events of New Mutants #66.  That was a story that featured Magik (the younger sister of Colossus) confronting Forge whom she holds responsible for the apparent deaths of her brother as well as the other X-Men during Fall of the Mutants.  The gist of that story: Magik sees herself in her ultimate evil form (as a horned, furred, and hooved demon), did not kill Forge, and ultimately reverted back to her normal girl form rather than the Darkchilde form she had adopted throughout the issue’s events.

As for the issue itself, it starts off with Colossus (in his armored form) laying waste to a mountainside in area around the X-Men’s new Outback home. Leonardi & Green expertly capture the kinetic energy of the scene with a true feeling of motion and power behind Colossus’ punch.  Despite the uber-short shorts our Russian strongman wears, and how strange it looks to me to see him wearing socks, I very much enjoy our fill-in artist’s rendition of Piotr Rasputin.

Rogue drops in on this improvised workout and conversation between the two powerhouses of the team serves to highlight two things for the reader.  First off, with Rogue’s “Oh Lordy…Big Guy, D’You Have The Slightest Notion…How Good You Look. YUM!” thought bubbles we get some insight into how these characters view one another.  It’s not so much sexual tension (especially since Colossus is lost in his own thoughts) as it is recognition of these characters not being asexual beings.  They do find one another attractive (something we saw a bit of between Dazzler/Longshot in #230), a fact certainly exacerbated by the fact that the handful of mutant teammates, and the one lone human, in this Outback escape are the only people the X-Men interact with regularly.

Then in this series of pages we begin to get an idea of how much internal struggle Colossus is going through as first Rogue scorches her own hand touching his metal hide (a side effect of being under the intense Outback sun), then he pontificates about his inability to turn back into human form before (as seen in the above page) the heat of Colossus’ own body sets ablaze the sketchpad featuring a drawing of his sister Illyana.  Finally, for the first time this issue we see the pain that transformation seems to bring on whenever young Mr. Rasputin attempts to revert to his normal form.

It is Storm who comes to his rescue with a handy rain cloud and who gets her long-time teammate to open up about his troubles.  This woman, who has long referred to Colossus as “little brother”, is someone with whom Peter feels comfortable opening up to (moreso than Rogue obviously) and he tells Storm of the dreams, of the fears, he has for Illyana.  The conversation between the two of them also serves to remind readers of the status quo of this comic, of how the world thinks the team dead, and how they allow that misconception to continue in order to, as Storm puts it “…strike at (our foes) without fear of imperiling those we care for.”

Colossus, to further cement his Russian heritage, drops some Vladimir Lenin into the conversation as he points out that the need of the community must take precedence over the needs of the individual.  I would not dare to take a position on this, nor elaborate, as my knowledge of such political leanings is minimal at best. You can click on the link if you’d like to learn more…

The page above is a fascinating representation of the “X-Men as a family” concept with its usage of such a mundane task as doing dishes.  Yet, in the hands (or pen) of Chris Claremont, it becomes a strong depiction of the ties that bind.  The initial caption lets you know that Rogue made dinner, the following frame furthers Colossus’ story and lets us know how Wolverine (of all people) is trying to help Petey relearn some of his fine motor control since he’s “trapped” in his armored form.

Not only do we have the focus on Peter though, there are also little tiny moment thrown in here that further flesh out the relationships between the members of this team. Whether it is Dazzler’s simple request for more intensity in Storm’s rain she is using to wash the dishes or her recognition of Colossus’ feelings (Dazz being another teammate with a family left behind), this pair of pages showcases the family aspect of the X-Men.

The sequence, which draws Gateway into the equation, also features a line of dialogue from Storm that I really appreciate for not only its recognition of why Peter returned to the team but also of the thing that makes him such an integral part of their equation.  She points out how it was his heart that led him to the X-Men in their hour of need (Fall of the Mutants reference) so perhaps it is a moment to trust his heart again.  This also makes me think of the “Petey Pureheart” nickname, as our beloved Russian powerhouse was so frequently called by Wolverine…

Unfortunately for Colossus, when he steps through Gateway’s portal, he is teleported to someplace less than pure as it seems to sync up with a spell being cast by his sister Illyana “Magik” Rasputin and dumps him in Limbo.  Limbo, for those unaware, is a realm essentially ruled by Illyana but one under constant turmoil thanks to demons like S’ym and the techno-organic virus with which he is now infected.

Unfortunately for Colossus, when he steps through Gateway’s portal, he is teleported to someplace less than pure as it seems to sync up with a spell being cast by his sister Illyana “Magik” Rasputin and dumps him in Limbo.  Limbo, for those unaware, is a realm essentially ruled by Illyana but one under constant turmoil thanks to demons like S’ym and the techno-organic virus with which he is now infected.

*Note that that some of the residents of Limbo, specifically the Smiley-Faced robots, are representatives of The Right who were dumped into this nether-realm during the New Mutants portion of the Fall storyline.*

S’ym, on the other hand, has been a part of Illyana’s story almost since the beginning when she fell into Limbo in the first place.  There has been a battle for control of that dimension ever since and it is one that will pay off in the very near future…

Illyana thinks this image of her brother is nothing more than a necromantic spell, something reiterated by S’ym, and that he is just a visage there to serve Magik’s needs.

The page above highlights several of the most important angles of this issue’s story arc.  It takes on the battle between S’ym and Magik over the realm of Limbo, it (via Leonardi & Green’s art) showcases the anger of Colossus as he flings himself in battle opposite the demon horde, and it also hits on Magik’s belief that this is just a ghost of a shell of an image of her dead brother.  Her line, “Why am I so upset? That isn’t Peter, isn’t even alive”, hits on her issues for this issue.

Another moment of note and one that I have come to appreciate over the years, due to an education I didn’t have at 8-9 years old, is S’ym’s reference to Shakespeare Macbeth:

“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)”

It’s definitely not something I understood when I read this initially but looking back on it, after many years of Shakespearean education  in film & lit classes, it is just one of many markers in comic book history that educated me (however subtly)  to greater works of literature.

This page, and the implications stemming from Magik’s statement, cement just how Colossus can maintain his (and the X-Men’s) secret while simultaneously helping his sister.  It is kismet…fate…and plays into a lot of how Gateway seems to operate.  He is there to make things happen, a gateway to the future I suppose.

The background for how we got here is laid out by Magik and operates around a novel which Illyana is reading for a term paper back at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters called The Master & The Margarita and spearheaded by a witch known as Baba Yaga.  A production of Russian folklore, she is a foil perfect for this brother/sister tale that combines elements of magic, folklore, and comic book sensibility.

Her presence in this tale is rather an afterthought ultimately, she and her henchmen provide the necessary villains for the story but the meat of our journey is in Colossus’ experience of this adventure. It is in the below images of his transformation from armored form to human form and the expertly lettered words that accompany his painful transformation:

The story is told in Peter’s transformation back to Colossus, back into the armored form, and the pain that also comes along with that change.  The story is told in the “drawbacks” of his transformation back to armored form, a transformation necessary to defeat Baba Yaga and ultimately allow Magik to revert her New Mutant teammates back to true form.

In the same way that #228 was a farewell to the X-Men as they existed before Fall of the Mutants, this issue serves as a farewell to the life of Colossus that existed beforehand.

This is Illyana speaking to her brother as if he wasn’t the ghost-image she believes him to be, this is Colossus speaking to his sister with the freedom that “death” brings.  These last few pages allow our Russian strongman to say goodbye in his own way to the life he gave up when the X-Men agreed to die a public death.

Magik, even after letting Peter go, still has to fight the urge to use her powers to bring her “dead” brother back but common sense wins out and Illyana realizes (as she mostly reverts to human form) that such a task would truly make her the Darkchilde (patience, patience, patience).

This last page, with one Smiley declaring his leadership in Limbo before S’ym returns, is indicative of something truly Claremontian.  It’s a monologue that sets up the future but a future that is totally, utterly, unknown to the reader.  It implies great damage, pain, and threat in the future but gives us no indication of the when/where/why/who.  Instead, what this last page gives the reader is an indicator of the threat to come: the return of The Brood.

Wait…the return?!?!?!?

Who are the Brood? What are the Brood?? For me, when I first read this issue many moons ago, that was the burning question left dangling.  This wasn’t a return…this was a first! It also marks the first “return” of the Outback era for the older generation (which I was not a part of yet since Classic X-Men/X-Men Classic had not yet caught up) so my curiosity in a re-read (especially as a veteran reader in 2014) now circles around if/how this story was accessible for noobs like myself (at the time) yet also remained fresh for long-timers who knew the old Brood lore.

That topic will be addressed when we return to the next part of my look into The Outback Era of everyone’s favorite mutants…

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Christopher Maurer is a graduate of Michigan State University w/ a BA in English who then proceeded to get wrapped up in the world of videography for local news & sports, including the 2003 March Madness tournament, before migrating to Philadelphia in late-2003 where he then jumped into the crazy-ridiculous world of professional wrestling under the moniker Shane Hagadorn. It is a world in which he, his wife, and cats have since resided for the last 10 years. Chris, an avid fan of comics for 25 years & counting, has been writing his own personal blog since late-2010 at 20 Plus Years of 32 Pages and recently had his first published work in the September 2013 issue of Philly Beer Scene Magazine. His loves include Batman, mutants, Grant Morrison, craft beer, and not taking it all too seriously...

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