To the Outback & Beyond… Inferno Aftermath

The Inferno is over…

Secrets have been revealed while the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled.  The ultimate fates of both Madelyne Pryor and Nathan Christopher Charles Summers are left to the pages of X-Factor.  Here in the pages of Uncanny, it is now time for our merry mutants to see if they can move on and what better ways to sort out the mess than shopping and drinking!

It’s long been a staple of the X-Men family of titles, that down issue after major events the team plays baseball or engages in some other family-bonding sort of activity.  Even as recent as August 2014’s Nightcrawler #5 this facet of the X-Titles has been presented and it’s one I’ve written about previously, albeit briefly, during the course of this series.  So on the heels of Inferno, it makes perfect sense for Claremont and company to return to this sort of tale for a pair of issues splitting the women and men of the team into their own little downtime stories.

UNCANNY X-Men #244 (May 1989)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Bob Harras

First up, the women of the X get their shot at some R&R when Psylocke, Storm, Rogue, and Dazzler (courtesy of Gateway) teleport to the Hollywood Mall in California for some retail therapy and inadvertently end up dealing with fallout from Inferno.  The most notable fact about this issue, the thing that has endured from this one-shot story, is that it marks the debut of the X-Men’s now resident Vampire Mutant, one Jubilation Lee aka Jubilee! A far cry from the vampire mutant mom that we now see in X-Men (Vol. 3), this girl was busy giving fireworks display in the mall using her mutant abilities and articulating quite expertly about the nature of her powers (what mall kid can say “…articulate, quasi-animate, transitory plasmoids”) especially given what we would learn about her history over time.

And that idea that this mall kid on the run from the rent-a-cops would know how to scientifically explain her powers to the rubes immediately throws up the main theme of this issue: perception.  Now Claremont still plays with the ideas of identity as he did in Inferno, but in this one take tale it is in a fun capacity as opposed to the serious questions brought out via that event.

In the case of Jubilee, she is perceived by the mall cops as a threat to the security of the mall and nothing more than “runaway street trash.”  In truth, as we learn over the course of the story, she in fact attended a Prep School in Beverly Hills where she was an ace gymnast, and sadly, her parents are both dead which is why she has apparently taken up residence in the mall for some duration of time based on how the mall cops talk about her presence.  As for Jubilee herself, it is her perceptions of the X-Women that lead her to willingly hop into the unknown when Gateway’s portal (conveniently) doesn’t close right up after the ladies enter.  Bearing witness to their arrival in the mall, Jubes perceives Storm, Psylocke, Dazzler, and Rogue as these stunning pillars of beauty and confidence that probably take no flack from anyone; the type of women she only wishes she could be.  On the heels of what the reader knows they all just experienced in Inferno, it makes for an interesting outsiders perspective on these four women who would consider themselves outsiders.

Speaking of our X-Women, the whole shopping extravaganza spirals out of Rogue’s identity crisis when she discovers that Carol Danvers took control of their shared body and did some redecorating. It’s a spill into the identity issues that plagued the team during Inferno only this time on a smaller scale.  It also serves as a reminder to readers both new and old of the stories that got us to this point and the rich history of the X-Men (Rogue’s attack on Carol Danvers and her Brotherhood history in this case). In addition, as the situation unfolds around the X-Women, Claremont and Silvestri gives us all a reminder of their power sets.  Be it demonstrations of their abilities like Storm and Dazzler or statements from Rogue towards Psylocke, or pertaining to Jubilee, it is an element of the story that feels natural to the events on page rather than an intrusive refresher course.  This sequence also gives the reader insight into what happened between-the-panels during the Genosha arc between Rogue and the Magistrates.

Perceptions are again somewhat shattered, perhaps not with the characters within the story, but for the reader for certain as the one character you would not expect to be the voice of logic and reason, Dazzler, not only spouts Latin and discusses Moebius strips but also questions the very existence of the X-Men: “We fight, we save the world, we die, we get resurrected, we rest up, and then start the whole stupid cycle over again. But where in that eternal Moebius strip do we get to live?”  Not only does Dazzler’s statement question the X-Men’s purpose, it really serves as a bit of metacommentary on the entire comic book industry and how essential it is for that system to play out ad nauseam, particularly with the franchise players of the Big Two.  It’s almost as if Allison Blaire is asking her writers for a chance to kick back and have fun instead of jumping from crisis to crisis and for a chance to be something more than just a “super hero zombie”.

Now while Dazzler may be a victim of perception in that few would expect her to spout that logic, she too falls victim to preconceived notions of who she believes her teammates to be.  Dazzler’s perception of Storm is the number one thing that rings false as she perceives Ororo to be “stuck-up princess Storm”.  It’s a skewed perception that is more accurate to the woman who initially joined the X-Men and somewhat reflective of the woman Dazzler has come to know during her time with the team.  However, long-time readers have seen Storm shave her head into a Mohawk, sport leather vests and gloves, engage in a romantic liaison with Forge, and make best friends with the Japanese daredevil Yukio. Allison only perceives Storm as her leader, the matriarch of the X-Men, not as a woman in her own right who has experienced far more in her life than Dazzler is aware.

Another example would be that even though we have seen more sensual sides of Psylocke, we are presented a lady adorned in clothing that one would expect to see covering Mary Poppins not the woman who went for a barely clothed dip in the Outback waters in front of Colossus and Rogue.  Claremont is playing with these ideas of just who his X-Woman are and, through this retail therapy adventure, lets the characters themselves play with their identities through clothes, hair, shoes, and the like.  To further play with the idea of these mutants as outcasts, Claremont makes no effort to hide that they are drop-dead gorgeous women with every man whose eyes fall on them responding with comments/thoughts that are so exaggerated they have to be intended as comedy.

Of course some action is required as the women deal with Inferno fallout in the form of those scientists who were “eaten” by the elevator in UXM #240 now becoming mutant hunters. In a nod towards the sister book, the lead scientist of the now-named M-Squad even references how they are filling the void left by X-Factor coming out as mutants themselves.  Of course their pursuit of Jubilee goes terribly wrong as the their equipment is still affected by the demonic taint but that sequence is merely backdrop to the character exploration in which Claremont engages in this “down” issue.

One final note separate from the thematic elements of this issue, it is an important storyline point to note how Dazzler (prior to the shopping spree) makes reference to “…Wolvie going walkabout so much lately.”  As the first X-Man to get an ongoing solo series in late 1988, as well as being a focal point of the Marvel Comics Presents anthology series that led into his ongoing, Claremont began doing something today’s writers frequently don’t bother do to: present book-to-book character continuity (to be fair, Wolverine was only appearing in three books simultaneously in 1989). The best examples of this continuity are how Jessica Hoan (from UXM #229) becomes Tyger Tyger in Wolverine (vol. 2) and how Psylocke’s new armor was introduced in that series as well. All it takes is one simple line from Dazzler to establish that bond between books.

UNCANNY X-MEN #245 (June 1989)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Rob Liefeld
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Letter: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Bob Harras

If perception was the main theme of the X-Women’s outing, spoof is the first word that comes to mind for this story entitled “MEN”.  After all, it kicks off with a double-page spread of aliens including Yoda, Jabba, Bobba Fett, E.T., and ALF, just to name a few.  One of the assembly even challenges another (i.e. the reader) to name everyone present!

That’s not to say the story doesn’t throw focus on the male members of the team, particularly Havok who was most affected by Madelyne’s betrayal, and the impact Inferno had on them, but when the story starts like that, you know it’s one with a humor to it.

With nods to Havok’s relationship to Maddie and Wolverine commenting how he is getting as wrapped up in the Outback computers as she did, it is clear that his personal arc is one of a grieving man looking to make sense of his pain. It is only through the intervention of Storm & Psylocke that the two men don’t come to blows and Ororo’s interference actually presents another reference to Logan’s recent absences from the team.  One time makes it seems like an off-handed comment; two issues in a row, particularly when Storm questions what happens when the time comes that Wolverine isn’t there for the team, well that is groundwork for something.

Claremont also uses this set-up for the boy’s outing as an opportunity to remind the reader of another long-term problem one of his X-Men has been facing.  Essentially since his return to the team in Fall of the Mutants, Colossus has had trouble transforming back into his non-armored form, so much so that it was a story point in UXM#231.  So Dazzler uses her own artistic skills (in the form of make-up) to conceal the armor and allow Peter to walk around looking like flesh and blood.

The spoof qualities of the story get even more obvious when the alien unveil the Jean Bomb (yes it looks exactly like Jean Grey) that, when unleashed, “…possesses the power to fatally disrupt any and all relationships”.  Seriously…

But not only does the story have that layer of self-mockery, it also was apparently a spoof on DC Comics recent Invasion! story from late 88-early 89 that showcased something called a Gene Bomb and whose lead aliens, The Dominators, had an uncanny resemblance to the aliens running the show here.  At the time of this initial reading I had no clue about this fun little jab from Marvel to DC as I didn’t pick up a DC Comic until Knightfall but now that I am aware of it, Claremont’s story is even more humorous to me.

The bartender being named Ostrander (a reference to John Ostrander perhaps?), the way in which the Australians basically don’t care about the alien invasion (and blame Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan commercials for their arrival), the fact that the fate of the world comes down to Wolverine playing cards while Longshot unwittingly seduces woman by just being himself and Havok gets drunk, it is all just a comedic take on the stereotypical cosmic invasion storyline.  When the invasion payoff is another Crocodile Dundee reference, this one from Havok with his “Those aren’t blasters. This is a blaster” line, you know this isn’t a story to be taken too seriously.

As the men walk out of the sunset and our core story hits its end, we do get a throwaway line from Wolverine to Havok about a rowdy cantina on the Gulf of California which is a reference to the Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown mini-series that was released under Marvel’s Epic imprint in 1988. Claremont is retroactively putting that story, written by the X-Factor team of Walt & Louise Simonson, into the continuity of his larger story…again a reference to Logan’s activities away from the team.

But we can’t leave without a tease of what’s to come as Tessa of the Hellfire Club pops up for the first time in UXM since #210 to inform us that Donald Pierce, the cyborg former Club member who hasn’t been seen since Dark Phoenix Saga in #138, is on the loose…

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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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