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[WIR] X-Men: The Strangest Super-Heroes of All!

JJ Hall

Last Red Hot Swami
Validated User
July 12, 1983

At the movies:


On the radio:


Uncanny X-Men 174

Scott brings Madelyne up to the Starjammer to watch an Earthrise from the brooding balcony observation deck. The couple's romantic moment is interrupted, however, so that readers learn the vital info that Hepzibah has no filter:



I don't believe we knew she and Chris were involved before now. Hmm. Are there any Summers brothers with fur and bushy tails? And if not, why not?

Chris takes "Lynne" on a tour of the ship, including the bridge, where she's introduced to Carol. She lets Scott know she doesn't intend to harp on what's past; she's only interested in the future now:



Chris asks if Scott is still serious about his offer to come along, and indeed he's not sure anymore. He returns to the observation deck to think -- he wants to give himself over to this relationship, but he can't help holding back despite that he hasn't 'felt so happy, so complete, since Jean died, like I've found a missing, essential piece of myself':



Madelyne approaches and commiserates with him about feeling haunted -- she speaks with the "ghosts" of the people who all died in the crash sometimes, admitting that they drive her to tears or even screaming fits at times, but "I can't let them control my life." She urges Scott to take his dad's offer if it's what he really wants, and he counters by asking if she'd come with him. They kiss, framed against a full moon -- the darkened, shadowy side, that is.

The next day the two are flying a plane over Alaska, and Scott still hasn't decided whether to join the Starjammers, though he has decided to marry Madelyne, and she's accepted his proposal:



"'Til death do us part," she confirms not at all ominously, and her guy congratulates himself for going through with it after all as he checks on their passengers. He doesn't know for certain whether there's more to Madelyne than she admits, and he tells himself he's okay with never being sure. I don't believe him, if only because "never" is a long ass time, but a certain master of disguise doesn't want to wait around for the inevitable. A "priest" we've seen before stops Scott and hands him a photo, claiming it fell out of his pocket as he passed by:



The couple get together that night at Madelyne's place to celebrate, unaware they have an audience:



Scott is distant, obviously troubled by something, and says he needs Madelyne to tell him the truth, he has to know -- is she Jean Grey?



She's pretty upset and runs off, but when Scott goes after her and asks to talk she comes out again:



She looks as though she's still mad, though.

Much Ado About You Know What

The issue's title is Romances, and it certainly lives up to it. Charles and Lilandra talk through their problems -- Charles's new body does have something wrong with it, to start. It can be fixed, but Lilandra has to return to her people right away. Deathbird's already sparked a civil war against her misrule, and Lilandra refuses to let others fight her crazy sister while she lives it up in exile:



They also discuss the issue of Madelyne's "uncanny" resemblance to Jean, Lilandra wanting to know if Charles has poked around her head to make sure she's on the level. He did try, but was unsuccessful:



To recap, Madelyne Pryor is a woman who is identical in appearance to Jean Grey, who was the sole survivor of a plane crash that happened at the moment Jean killed herself, who has no record of existence before that moment and conceals details of her life before that date when questioned about them? And her creator never intended any payoff or explanation to this mystery beyond "These are all coincidences?" And that would've been that if not for actions taken beyond the control of this writer and over his objections? Are . . . are we sure Jim Shooter is the villain of this BTS story?

At the Yoshida estate outside Agarashima, Logan attacks. He blows a hole in the wall with explosives and enters the grounds, sword drawn and ready to throw down with the defenders. Mariko commands there be no bloodshed, but won't give any further answer to her ex's demand for an explanation than she gave at the wedding:



Mariko's named her brother as her heir and forgiven him all his misdeeds, which seems short-sighted given his recent behaviour. She orders Logan to get lost, with no detectable misgivings:



Back at the mansion, Kitty plumbs the depths of her own heart's love:



See now this is a perfectly healthy relationship. All good things must come to an end, sadly, and so the kid seeks out her crush and, in a genuinely cute moment, tricks him into closing his eyes and letting her set him up for a surprise:



The kiss isn't the only thing she shares -- she has Peter walk forward while she tries phasing them both, which works just like she hoped it would:



They make out in Ororo's attic suite, but have to stop when she gets home. It's only at that point that the two of them actually look around and notice their fearless leader has made some changes to her living space:



Kurt tends to a bedridden Rogue, and tries to perk up her spirits when she gives voice to her fears:



Kurt assures her that if Logan thought she should die, he'd have let her die, and if he's willing to concede she should stick around, then she should too. It's been a while since the Dark Phoenix Saga, so Rogue asks what exactly happened with Jean, whose room she lives in now. Kurt lays it out in broad strokes, blaming her madness on the power she wielded without mentioning Mastermind. Not only is that odd given he's back, I feel it's a disservice to the original story: "power corrupts" narratives are very, very common, and the illusionist gaslighting the heroine driving her into a frenzy was an important story beat that keeps the DPS from being just another "woman gets her hands on FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE and ruins everything" narrative.

Anyway, the possibility that Madelyne might be Jean returned vexes Kurt as he returns to his room. He wishes Amanda were around, and as though a fairy godmother heard him he notices a package from her:



If dating your sister wasn't so messed up, these two would be my favourite X-couple to date, by far.

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Paul Smith
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

So right after Logan's wedding turns into a shambles, Scott proposes to his girlfriend who looks exactly like the woman Logan pined after. I'm not certain that counts as some widely-recognized social faux-pas, but it definitely feels like a dick move, especially since they get married the very next issue.

In their first "downtime" issue, Claremont and Smith had Kitty and Lockheed battle Sidrian hunters in the tunnels beneath the mansion. In the next one Illyana attacked her best friend with a sword and Carol punched Rogue into orbit. This time a normal human woman without powers punches Scott and knocks his glasses off. If this trend continues, we'll soon have an issue where everyone just sits around playing cards, the action beat provided by the wind slamming a door shut.

Half a year's worth of hints and teases that Phoenix is returning culminate in Madelyne's final-page transformation, though Mastermind's presence provides plenty of reason to question what we see. Readers in '83 must've been in a tizzy over the big payoff -- the comics on MU only very occasionally include the letters page, which is a shame; I'd like to know what fans of the time thought of everything issue by issue.

Next Time:

 

zwilnik

Registered User
Validated User
Welp, I'm just out of high school at this point, and at the comics shop weekly.

I actually liked these slow burn issues at the time. Character stuff going on, and the side plots gearing up to become main plots.

I'm not sure when the plot got changed from "Madelyn's just a girl who looks like Jean, but is also Scott's ride into the sunset" to "Let's tease Jean really hard to troll the fans" but I always figured it was pretty early. Claremont came in with the idea, and an issue or two later Shooter rewrites the arc. Because Madelyn was trolling early, and it only ramps up.
 

Spatula

More Ideas Than Time
RPGnet Member
Validated User
The pile of oddities surrounding Madelyn is why, to me anyway, Claremont’s original plan looks so strange in retrospect, and what the character became looks very much like some amazing long-range foreshadowing. Though it’s possible that Mastermind has been involved since the beginning - how does he know to show up now, and how convenient that the weak point for him to exploit is this normie’s resemblence to Jean? His presence is a fairly incredible coincidence on its own.
 
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Master_Forcide

Registered User
Validated User
To recap, Madelyne Pryor is a woman who is identical in appearance to Jean Grey, who was the sole survivor of a plane crash that happened at the moment Jean killed herself, who has no record of existence before that moment and conceals details of her life before that date when questioned about them? And her creator never intended any payoff or explanation to this mystery beyond "These are all coincidences?" And that would've been that if not for actions taken beyond the control of this writer and over his objections? Are . . . are we sure Jim Shooter is the villain of this BTS story?
Hey now, no one said there wasn't supposed to be payoff or explanation. Madelyne's arc isn't over yet.
 

JJ Hall

Last Red Hot Swami
Validated User
July 26, 1983

At the movies:


On the radio:


New Mutants 9

The legionnaires march their captives into the mountains and through a tunnel, at the other end of which is . . .



Amara has been mistaken for a member of the mutants' group and asks her former captors not to expose her. They're all brought to a dungeon and left there for the night, so the kids ask her what's going on:



The colony was set up by the patronage of Julius Caesar; no explanation, not even magic or whatever, is provided for how or why that happened. Dani asks why she was in disguise (no, she's not upset about the nature of the disguise; given how flinty Dani is, that's out of character writing on top of the other problem with it) and Amara explains that it's all the fault of the immigrants:

We are not all Roman. Much of the city is descended from the Incas, who fled here centuries ago, when their own land was conquered. Nova Roma is a republic, but the Incas were an absolute monarchy. A faction has arisen seeking to transform Rome into the same kind of imperial state. I am part of the opposition to that party. If my father's enemies learn of my activities, it could ruin him politically, and the republican cause with him.
Because Romans who revere Julius Caesar have no time for autocracy, of course.

The team isn't sure they should trust her (except Sam, who thinks they should accept everything she tells them uncritically and also that she is really, really hot). Wishing she could just read her mind like the professor, Dani uses her power to probe Amara's most terrifying fear, creating an image of "the Black Priestess" throwing her into "her pit of fire!" The guys decide that's all they need to know about this place and try to bust out, Amara shouting her warning too late -- destroying the cell door triggers a spray of darts loaded with a knockout drug.

The prisoners' fate is discussed among the city's bigshots, where Amara's dad (not knowing she's among them) gets his enemy, Marcus Domitius Gallio, to publicly state that they're to be sold on the auction block, the boys having to survive the gladiatorial arena first. Gallio, the commander of the guard, intended to keep them a secret for his own purposes and is mad that he can't now, as he explains to his wife:



Selene is stated to be Inca, but I guess that wasn't communicated to the colorist because she's as pale as anyone here. She has "arcane" power and offers to use it to kill Aquilla for him, but Gallio is reluctant for some reason. That irritates his wife, but she doesn't press the issue, switching tack instead to a different plan. She leads her man into a set of catacombs underneath their villa and transforms a section of wall into a cell door, on the other side of which is Castro, the saboteur from last time. He says he works for "a great lord to the East" and promises his boss will want to ally with him in exchange for mining rights. Gallio indicates he's interested.

The next day the kids are brought into Nova Roma proper and prepared for their new roles:



They're given drugged wine, but Amara gets away with only drinking a little. She tries to rouse them after dark to escape with her, but there's no helping them. She reluctantly leaves them to go see her dad. He sent her from the city 'to save me from the Black Priestess and her unholy fire cult,' and wanted her to stay hidden out in the wilderness until he found a way to deal with the villain. Before she can make it out of the house she suffers an attack of some kind, slowing her down enough to be captured:



Oh no! Guys, wake up! You have to save the pretty blonde girl from the nefarious (theoretically) brown woman!

The next day Dani and Rahne are brought to the Circus, where they join the rest of the city to watch the games: "Only their glazed eyes and languid movements betray the drugs used to keep them compliant. Nothing they see or feel bothers them, because they don't believe it's real. They think this is all a fantastic dream and, if things get too nasty, they'll escape by simply waking up." The boys are given drugged wine as well -- the previous day they got a potion to weaken and confuse them, but this time they get one that will instill "an irresistible berserker fury" in them. As you'd expect, they guys with superpowers do well in the combat, even when the Romans deploy some admittedly awesome primitive tanks with spiked rollers against them:



The crowd is jazzed by the action, even Rahne and Dani, who gasp and cheer along with all the rest. Before the guys level the whole place, Sam accidentally knocks his friend over. The teen takes offense, Sam gets angry in turn, and they're soon going at it tooth and claw. They exhaust their powers, but continue fighting in the mundane way, Sam's greater size giving him a clear advantage. Roberto gets back enough mojo to reverse that, at least for a moment, which is long enough to make Rahne worried for the big guy:



She transforms and runs out onto the sand to defend her crush. Dani's rapport with Rahne's wolf form snaps her out of it, so she does what she can to help her friends get themselves under control as well:



She joins them on the sand, and at first things look bad, with the guards making ready to turn them into pincushions, but Gallio seizes the moment, convincing the crowd that the kids are children of the gods and should be welcomed and celebrated.

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Why is it getting more racist? Was the story insufficiently racist before? On top of that problem, Bob McLeod is replaced as inker by Tom Mandrake, and the art suffers for it. On the other hand, the action in the arena is decent, and I appreciate the arrival of the team serving as a means for the power players of this setting to continue their existing agendas in new ways, rather than have everything stop and treat the heroes as the most important people ever, Star Trek-style.

Next Time:

 

JJ Hall

Last Red Hot Swami
Validated User
August 9, 1983

At the movies:


On the radio:


Uncanny X-Men 175

A fiery bird appears in the sky over the mansion -- Ororo is convinced now that what she saw in Japan was real, not a trick her mind played on her (irony!). It's gone in a flash, but Scott drops from where it was; he has no memory of anything that happened between Madelyne's transformation last night and Rogue catching him. The team -- including Lockheed, so you know they're not playing around this time -- gather and Charles psyches himself up to look for her with Cerebro. The moment he turns it on he howls in pain; the machine has been tampered with:



A jazzercise outfit combined with opera gloves, what might be the first completely unnecessary belt in superherodom (It was all her doing! She started the trend!) and an item that only covers her shoulders -- Kitty is just trolling at this point. She finds that Cerebro was set up to backfire on the professor's mind, which Scott explains is a product of "the end of the world!" as a certain fiery lady emerges from the man it's clear she'd been possessing:



Jean easily trounces the team, but rather than kill them she announces she's off to attend to some errands, but then she'll be back. The X-Men try to get the word out to others to warn them and ask for help, but are too late every time:



They look out the window and see a giant firebird rising from the site of New York City, and draw the obvious conclusion -- Jean isn't just attacking those she has ties with, but going on a rampage.

This is the point where even a reader who missed a few issues or is trying the book for the first time that there's something hinky going on -- maybe Lilandra and the Starjammers can be killed off here, but the city with all the other heroes? No way.

Kurt tends to Scott in the infirmary, noting that his life signs are fading for no discernible reason -- there's nothing physically wrong with him, "yet his condition deteriorates by the minute. It's as if Phoenix stripped him of the will to live." Scott himself doesn't see it that way -- he rises as a pale ghost from his comatose body and perceives it as "blistered and charred." He believes himself dead, and the details of the room are drowned out by a blinding white light that draws Scott toward it. He looks for Jean and thinks he sees her, but it's someone else:



Ghost Mom urges Scott to turn back, and that he has everything he needs to achieve his "heart's desire." When he wakes, he's crying, finally realizing that he hadn't really accepted that Jean was really dead. He thinks he gets it now -- we'll see. Finding that his body is just fine, not burned at all, he sees that someone must be messing with his perceptions. Once he realizes that, the rest falls into place:



He Batmans up a few things to give himself an edge, then tries to tell the others what he's discovered. As expected, Mastermind doesn't let him speak -- the rest of the team perceive him as Jean and attack:



He draws them into the Danger Room, where he's sabotaged the control consoles -- the only way to affect the Room now is a remote control in Scott's possession. He uses it to counter Mastermind's illusions with his own, turning the place into a jungle he can hide in and think of a way to get them to listen to him 'before they blow my head off.'

We cut away to Madelyne dressed as Dark Phoenix seemingly coming to herself in a burning hellscape as Mastermind compliments Scott on putting up a fight after all. She doesn't understand what's happening and wonders if she's gone mad, but her captor is happy to explain his evil plan: he's going to trick the X-Men into killing Madelyne, "a moral blow from which they will never recover." Hmm. He tells her his story, letting readers in on all that's happened from his perspective since DPS:




"Former colleagues?" I suppose that means he was the one who attacked Emma and preyed on Raven & co. I suppose it makes sense he'd blame/resent Emma for his failure to keep Jean under control without her to hold his hand, so I tentatively withdraw my objection to her current predicament unless it takes a long time for her to come out of that coma. The grudge he holds against Raven makes less sense, as Claremont seems to have forgotten that their conflict was never actually printed -- Ms. Marvel was cancelled before he could appear in it.

As this is going on, Scott picks the team off one by one -- Kurt activates a booby trap, Peter falls into quicksand, Ororo is sniped by a surface-to-air optic blast, Kitty is nerve pinched (Claremont really liked Star Trek, guys) and Logan just gets dunked:



The last one on her feet, Rogue plants herself between "Phoenix" and the exit, right where Scott set up a sleeping gas trap. He sets it off, then brings the unconscious girl with him to the infirmary. He figures that if Charles isn't on hand to help fend off Mastermind, another telepath will have to do:



Scott reaches out to her mind with his and offers every lesson he's had about controlling his thoughts and everything he picked up about telepathy from Jean. The others recover and follow, but Rogue manages to include the rest of the team in her mindlink with Scott before they kill him.

It is at this seemingly-random point that the Smith art stops and the Romita art begins. Smith was originally going to pencil up to issue #177, but despite doing an awesome job drawing the characters he didn't have much interest in the book (at least not with Claremont as a partner) as explained in the announcement of the staff change in Comics Journal, so he must've convinced the powers that be to let him off early:



Since that plan's busted, Mastermind pulls out a trick from Logan's favourite movie -- he creates a vision of Jean and has her "attack" Scott, which he ignores now that he knows it can't hurt him, and uses it as a cover to pull out a gun and just shoot the X-Man. Realizing the villain must be in the room with them, Ororo summons up a typhoon right then and there. It's powerful enough to make some of the team wonder if she's gone crazy or fallen under Mastermind's influence, but her intent is only to incapacitate him:



Okay, there's some edgelord affect here, but she orders Logan to let him live just like when she was new to leadership, so it's more like faux-edgelord -- she's supposedly willing to cross the line, but never actually will. I wonder if this might be some delayed teenage rebellion -- by the time she was ready to start listening to Evanescence and dye her hair orange she was being worshipped as a deity, so it's all coming out now.

Mastermind is drugged "until the professor can devise some more permanent means of restraint." Scott's not in too bad shape (the villain only tagged his arm) but Madelyne is found floating face down, completely limp. Allowing the bad guy to get his way even in defeat would be a downer, though, so a little mouth-to-mouth and she's fine, too:



An epilogue set on the day of Scott and Madelyne's wedding follows. The bridegroom visits Jean's grave at Bard College and says goodbye, then heads back to the school where the ceremony is held in a big tent on the lawn. We finally get to very briefly see the grandparents that brought the couple together:



We learn from this exactly one thing about them: they raised their son to wear a headband at a wedding. My grandparents would be horrified. There are a tonne of guests, and Madelyne is walked down the aisle by someone who's presumably her dad:



but Kitty is her maid of honour:



That seems confused -- did the bride bring a big wedding party, putting all doubts that her background is "mysterious" to rest, or does she have no past? In any event, this wedding actually happens, ending on the big kiss:



Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Paul Smith and John Romita Jr.
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Scott fans get a big treat with this issue; he fights and defeats all the other X-Men, beats the villain at his own game, achieves what for now will pass for closure with his lost love, and gets a happy ending.

Mastermind gets a big push here too; Claremont doubles down on his past "Hellfire" association, tempting the heroes to make a mistake that will corrupt their souls and consign them to a hell on earth. Quite a step up from the guy who went "Boo!" back in the day.

Next Time:

 

Spatula

More Ideas Than Time
RPGnet Member
Validated User
The New Rome thing never made any sense to me. I didn't know that Selene was originally supposed to be of Incan descent - I had actually forgotten that the Inca were a faction within the time-lost South American Rome. Do we see any dark-skinned New Romans?

My older brother and his friends, who were big X-Men fans whereas I was more of a Spider-Man fan, hated JRjr taking over art on the book. I was always mystified by that; I loved his work on Amazing Spider-Man. I wonder what Smith's disagreements were with Claremont.

It does seem like it's possible that all of the strangeness surrounding Madelyne was the work of Mastermind, since IIRC none of the claims of the plane crash and whatnot were ever independently verified. Though when she comes back into the picture those stories will be taken at face value, IIRC.

I love scenes like the one where Cyclops has to rely on his wits to beat a superior force. You get a real sense of Scott as being a great tactical thinker here that has, previously, been more of an informed attribute IMO.
 
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ogier300

Registered User
Validated User
The New Rome thing never made any sense to me. I didn't know that Selene was originally supposed to be of Incan descent - I had actually forgotten that the Inca were a faction within the time-lost South American Rome. Do we see any dark-skinned New Romans?

My older brother and his friends, who were big X-Men fans whereas I was more of a Spider-Man fan, hated JRjr taking over art on the book. I was always mystified by that; I loved his work on Amazing Spider-Man. I wonder what Smith's disagreements were with Claremont.

It does seem like it's possible that all of the strangeness surrounding Madelyne was the work of Mastermind, since IIRC none of the claims of the plane crash and whatnot were ever independently verified. Though when she comes back into the picture it those stories will be taken at face value.

I love scenes like the one where Cyclops has to rely on his wits to beat a superior force. You get a real sense of Scott as being a great tactical thinker here that has, previously, been more of an informed attribute IMO.
Honestly, it's took a while to accept the JRJ art on X-Men. Going from the excellent of Paul Smith's work to what looked scratchy and half-finished was quite the veer-off. We had Byrne, Cockrum and Smith ... and then we got what comparatively felt like scribbles. I do remember coming around after a few issues, but I've always wished the books had aimed more for the clean lines of Paul Smith, rather than descended into the world of scratches and scritches that's coming up.
 

Tumbleweed

Supporting Cast!
Validated User
I love scenes like the one where Cyclops has to rely on his wits to beat a superior force. You get a real sense of Scott as being a great tactical thinker here that has, previously, been more of an informed attribute IMO.
Oh yeah, that "Scott vs. the X-Men" scene is great. Which just reminds me that Cyclops rarely gets enough credit these days, but being written as the X-men's stodgy stick-in-the-mud for like 30 years probably doesn't help.
 
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