To the Outback & Beyond… Part 4

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti & Bob Harras

From the demon filled fields of Limbo and the drama of the Rasputin family in the previous issue, the cover to this issue heralds the return of the alien Brood to the pages of the Uncanny X-Men.  Picking up this issue upon its August 1988 release at Capital City Comics in Lansing, MI, it was my very first exposure to The Brood.  Classic X-Men/X-Men Classic was not yet up to the point of reprinting the original Brood Saga that was spread out over Uncanny X-Men #156-158 and #162-167.  This was fresh territory for me, yet for long-time readers it marked the return of a pivotal villain in the X-Men rogue’s gallery.  I think what I find fascinating looking at this issue in the context of modern comics is that Chris Claremont waited over 60 issues to bring the alien race back into the fold.  Perhaps it is due to the volume of comics I read now as compared to when I was in my fan infancy, but I have a feeling that villains are recycled in a much faster fashion across the Marvel spectrum.

Right from the get-go Claremont and company establish the back story for this adventure upon which we are about to embark.  The first panel, with Wolverine & Storm taking on Crimson Commando and Stonewall, is from #215 & 216 while the second with Longshot, Rogue, Dazzler, & Psylocke taking on Juggernaut comes from #217 & 218.  These panels confirm that these two events happened simultaneously while the third panel peeks in on (at the time) former X-Men Polaris & Havok as the fourth introduces us to a quartet of campers.

The peaceful night for our foursome is shattered as the sky splits open and a meteor-like object rockets towards the ground upon which our campers sit.  The impact, to the shock of all four given the apparent size of the suspected meteor, does not incinerate them and through the dialogue tied to their varied reactions we also learn the names of each participant in this New Mexican drama: Harry, Norman, Sally, and Fran.  Initial observations of the characters depictions lead me to believe that, based on physical proximity, Harry and Fran are a couple, possibly Norman and Sally as well Harry, as we see from the jacket he throws on, is a paramedic with the Denver Fire Department and Sally is the fearless one of the bunch.

That fearlessness costs Sally her life as this giant shark-like creature devours her whole right in front of Harry.  With the deaths of Sally, Norman, and Fran we learn a little bit about each individual, thus making them more than just shallow pawns on Claremont’s literary chessboard: Sally the teacher, Norman the father, and Fran who sang solo in the church choir. Just like the characters that populate these pages on a monthly basis, those three casualties were people too and Claremont makes sure to let the reader know just a bit about their lives.

Finally, on the eight page of this tale, we see the purpose of including that seemingly random Polaris/Havok panel as well as find out just how the tale of the camping quartet dovetails into the larger story.  See back in #218, when we last saw Havok & Polaris, their jeep was run off the road by an out of control van and the mutant pair discovered the shark-ship that, as we now know, Harry and friends witnessed crashing to Earth.  Fourteen issues from tease to pay-off; that is something very typical of Claremont’s X-Men run and, as the first comic writer I followed voraciously, also the first exposure I had to a long-form tale.  It’s something I see in a plethora of writers now (Fraction, Remender, & Hickman for example) but in 1988, it was very new territory for me.

We jump from the days of the crash landing/car accident to the present to find Harry, a very stone-faced Harry at that, on the job in Denver. Speeding past a GLORY DAY MINISTRY billboard, the he and his partner Josey arrive at a very strange scene that sees a fireman give them an extinguisher as they head into the room of the patient-in-waiting.  What they find is quite surprising:

The patient in question, one Robert Delgado, was apparently expelling flames from his mouth and, according to the keen observations of the emergency staff, “…the guy’s a mutie”.  Be he a late bloomer of a mutant or someone who has managed to hide his powers until now is a question left unanswered by this sequence, and really isn’t one important to the larger picture at all.  What is important though is witnessing Harry’s hand become a pointy tentacle-looking thing that stabs Delgado in the stomach as Harry declares “…I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll live forever”.

It isn’t until page 11 that the reader is finally greeted with a familiar face in the forms of Madelyne Pryor and Gateway as well as a familiar location in the Outback town.  Dialogue boxes give us some insight into the thought process of Aboriginal teleporter (even though it’s not his thoughts directly) and let us know that he views the X-Men as friends versus The Reavers who were his enemies.  Madelyne’s thoughts, on the other hand, are directly from her head and are used to remind/inform the reader in a very natural fashion that she is a pilot by trade: “…But I’m a pilot. I’d much rather fly from place to place” she says in reflection on using Gateway’s teleporting ability.

Her internal comment about strolling through “stark naked” leads us into some unexpected territory, even for Madelyne, as she wonders to herself how Havok specifically (her brother-in-law) would react to that scenario.  It’s a side of the woman we haven’t seen thus far in her appearances but as she retires to the computer room of the Outback base, her thoughts drift back to the team and their status as…well…dead to the world.  Using designs based on Longshot and Dazzler’s respective costumes, Madelyne sketches up an eight pointed star they could potentially use as a calling card, “…stars mean the law, the good guys. Eight points, eight X-Men. Definitely has possibilities”.

The calm of this room, at least that is what it produces for Madelyne as she points out everyone else is creeped out by it, is shattered though as the machines illustrate just why everyone finds them creepy as they whir to life all on their own.

The mutant world outside the X-Men’s Outback base comes crashing in on an all alone Madelyne as we bear witness to her revelation that Jean Grey is still alive.  Readers of X-Factor (of which I had only just become) would have been very aware of this fact but for me, having not yet read The Dark Phoenix Saga, and simultaneously reading about a very much alive Jean Grey in Classic X-Men, was not exactly sure of the story here.  Madelyne’s words though, they do a great job of laying out her emotional response and giving context to an image whose importance was relatively alien to me at the time.

With Madelyne’s fate left hanging, the scene of our tale returns to Denver and Harry Palmer.  Based on his dialogue, some of which fleshes out a central theme of the X-Men’s existence, it appears that Harry has neither memory of his tentacle handed actions nor the outcome of his encounter with Delgado.  He opens the door to his apartment only to find an armored Psylocke standing in wait as well as Colossus who he hoists up with little effort and tosses at the X-Men’s resident telepath.  The armor Psylocke wears came out of an issue of Wolverine’s solo title and is making its first appearance in UXM right here.

Harry is shocked and confused by his ability to toss a massive armored man around like a ragdoll, just as he is utterly confused by how he even knows that it’s the X-Men with whom he’s in battle.  He isn’t even sure why he is fighting them, commenting on how wrong it is but they are making him scared. This all feels like an instinctive gut reaction and one likely tied into whatever reason his hand turned into a tentacle with Delgado.  Historical perspective informs us that this is all due to his connection to The Brood’s hive-mind but the new reader (like I was at the time) wouldn’t have that history to pull from.  It’s an unknown to them just as it is to Harry…

After Harry tosses a car door at Longshot & Dazzler, putting Rogue in a position to control live electrical wires, the reader begins to learn some of what is going on here.  Rogue tells us that only Colossus, Storm, and Wolverine have met these “sleazoids” while Psylocke’s telepathy confirms that Harry himself appears totally unaware of his own abilities at the moment.  Wolverine is the first person in this issue to utter the word “BROOD”, thus putting an official name to the sleazoids, and in the final panel of the image below, Storm does her best to describe to her fellow X-Men, those that have not encountered them, what The Brood mean:

As an aside, I must say I love that image of Wolverine skulking off into the fog…

Rogue finds Harry Palmer on the bus as he looks to escape this madness his life has become but it proves to be a bad idea as his Brood instincts kick in, his hand transforms again, and Harry assaults her.  Wolverine saves Rogue by pulling Palmer out of the window of the bus, tossing him to the street and Harry’s hand returns to normal but this time it seems he realized there was a transformation.  The bus flips with Rogue inside, the driver escapes unscathed, but her clothes are torn to shreds.   Wolverine, with murderous intent, traps Harry in an alleyway and with Rogue by his side, they (at Storm’s demand) aim to hold Harry prisoner until Psylocke can read his mind. The hope: finding out who else may be infected with the Brood egg…

Harry is saved by the arrival of a pair of police known to Harry from his paramedic position, Ruth and Dale he names them, but Wolverine puts an end to their involvement as he guts one of them and knocks down the other.  Rogue freaks out, thinking Wolvie has just slaughtered innocents, but the truth comes to light with the arrival of Psylocke as she scans the berserker’s mind.  They are Brood, and unfortunately for our team, they aren’t the only ones…

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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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