Classic Comic Fridays: Uncanny X-Men #134

Every Friday, I will review a classic comic from my personal collection.

For my classic comic feature this week, I’ve decided on a personal-favourite of mine, Uncanny X-Men #134 from June of 1980. It was written by the man who arguably made the X-Men who they are today, Chris Claremont. It was also co-written by artist John Byrne, the legend who drew the X-Men for their re-conception in the 70’s and 80’s. Needless to say, this was the X-Men’s A-Team. This is also the issue which gives readers the first appearance to Dark Phoenix!

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What’s fantastic about this issue – or at least, what stands out for me – are two things. First is the excitement from panel-to-panel with the ensuing battle between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. And second is the building up of Dark Phoenix.

The story actually trails issues before this one, where Jean Grey has been getting random dreams and flashes of being a queen with a man named Jason Wyngarde. After so many issues, Grey is fully tricked into being a queen and is brought to the Hellfire Club, where, along with Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Jason Wyngarde, and Harry Leland, she becomes the Black Queen.

The X-Men in a few issues prior, go to save Jean, but are all captured. Luckily, Wolverine had eluded capture earlier and breaks in to save the day – only to be stopped by Jean under Wyngarde’s control. All seems lost, but Jean removes a helmet Cyclops was forced to wear to withhold his powers, and he blasts the X-Men free. It seems as if Jean was able to beat Wyngarde’s control. . .

With the X-Men free, they begin battle against the Hellfire Club with awesome panels drawn by Byrne. Colossus takes on Pierce and rips off one of his robot arms, while Leland takes on Wolverine and loses, of course.

Cyclops and Shaw battle it out. Although Shaw could absorb Cyclops’ blasts, Summers plays it smart and blows out the floor beneath Shaw, forcing him to fall.

Storm and Nightcrawler take on Shaw from the lower level, where Storm tries freezing the Black King. Shaw grabs Nightcrawler and throws him at Storm preventing a full-freeze. Defeated, Shaw escapes with Pierce and Leland into a secret passage within the club.

As the story winds down, we see that Wyngarde was not who he was – but instead Mastermind, generating queen illusion to Jean, as well as making the fake image of Jason Wyngarde. Mastermind tries to figure out how he lost, and the readers discover that it was not Jean Grey at all. In fact, Mastermind was playing mind-games with the Phoenix force itself!
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Angry for being tricked for so long by Mastermind, Phoenix decides to destroy him for what he has done. In result, the fake-Jean opened his mind into all the feelings and sensations the Phoenix felt around the universe. Unable to handle such immense power in his mind, Mastermind fell into a coma.

Escaping the club, the X-Men regroup to the Blackbird and begin to leave. Cyclops tries to figure out what was wrong with Jean as she also seemed to be short with him on their way to the jet. After a few moments of gathering themselves, the X-Men turn around to see Jean floating in a red costume proclaiming, “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever, I am Phoenix!”

And then the Blackbird blew up.

What a way to end a story, eh?

Claremont’s build up to such a dramatic story could not have been any better. No one, whether in the X-Men or the Hellfire Club could have known this was coming. Not even the readers knew, or were hinted at, that Jean Grey was not who she was. It came as a complete shock to all players for the comic.

Afterward, the Dark Phoenix Saga begins for a few issues, followed by the inevitable death of Jean Grey in issue #137, entitled “Phoenix Must Die!” I’m sure you’ve all seen the awesome cover. It’s also my profile picture on WordPress here.

One thing to definitely discuss is Bryne’s brilliant art throughout the comic. Panel-to-panel, the X-Men have to battle the Hellfire Club, and we have to see how each individual’s power affects the story. Wolverine versus Leland’s power to increase gravity to the people around him ended in failure as Wolverine jumped on Leland. Given his only was to generate weight, they both crashed through the floor, Leland obviously defeated.

Pierce’s battle with Colossus shows how Pierce just relies on brute strength rather than technique. The snapping of Pierce’s arm by Colossus’s technique brings one of those, “hell yes” moments to the page. Byrne’s great for that.

As for how X-men comics go, this was definitely one of the strongest X-Men comics I’ve ever read. X-Men, I’d argue, is my forté, so when I say this, I do mean it. Overall, this story – filled with plenty of surprises and great action – make obvious to why Claremont and Byrne’s run on the X-Men was so successful.

Grade: 9/10

Keep on Space Truckin’.

Uncanny X-Force/Chaos War Day!

This week, I had only planned on picking up two comics. However, I completely forgot about – despite all the marketing – that Chaos War started today. As such, here are my reviews for two major-titles this week: Uncanny X-Force #1, and Chaos War #1.

These reviews may also contain spoilers.

Probably the most anticipated book since X-Men: Second Coming story arc, Uncanny X-Force blew into comic stores today, and I must say, did not disappoint. Written by Rick Remender with art by Jerome Opena, UXF delivered quality story-telling with superb art, and wonderful direction.

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X-Force disbanded at the end of Second Coming earlier this year, with Wolverine re-assembling it under the nose of Cyclops. The roster features Archangel, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Fantomex, as they are on a quest to finally kill Apocalypse once and for all.

The story kicks off with some Deadpool heroics which sets up the rest of the story. My primary concern with the story would be separating both voices of Deadpool and Fantomex as I found both characters to be some-what the same in their humour and actions. I only felt this way as Bendis in the Avengers parent-title, has seemed to merge both Spider-Man and Hawkeye as one voice. However, this was not the case with Remender. We actually have two unique people adding significant character into the story. It was relieving to me.

The story goes into Archangel and Psylocke’s relationship and their concern for if “Death,” Archangel’s secondary mutation from Apocalypse, could take over. Although it was never really discussed in the prior X-Force comics, I can see how we are already being set up for future story arcs. I’m ecstatic. Plus Betsy and Warren are together. I love it.

Wolverine surprisingly does not have much to do with the main set up as the story. As the founder of X-Force, and it’s longest-running member since it’s most recent conception back in Messiah CompleX days, I can understand why they did not need to focus so much on Logan.

However, what the story does for the reader is wonderful. Brilliant colours and tones flush the pages, thanks to colourist Dean White. The comic has a mixed feelings of haze and impending doom with each turn. Opena’s art also stands out as nothing but spectacular. Wolverine versus a stone giant – who would not love it? Plus a wonderful final-page ending that leaves us all with “wtf” moments certainly will have us back for issue two.

Uncanny X-Force exceeded expectations and pushed out a grand story (with tons of variant covers) which will go down in to the comic history books.

Grade: 10/10

Chaos War is something Marvel has been teasing us with for awhile now. Since the death of Hercules and his sudden return, I know I have been asking myself, “why kill him off only to bring him back months later?” Chaos War is the reason why – and I believe that the killing-off/bringing-back formula worked well for this comic.

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Written by Incredible Hulk great Greg Pak, and Fred Van Lente, Chaos War begins with King Chaos killing Nightmare in his realm and taking it over, showing us what sort of power the King possesses. It is followed by Hercules’ return to Earth – warning its heroes of the impending doom the Chaos King will be soon bringing to the planet. What is really good is how Pak and Lente show how all the heroes react to Hercules’ return – not considering it relevant as Herc has always been considered a buffoon. Not this time.

Hercules returns alive from an alternate universe with immense power, given to him by his best friend, the Prince of Power, Amadeus Cho. Teaming with Thor, Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and many others, Hercules divides his new-power between all the heroes and brings them up to Nightmare’s realm to stop the Chaos King. So begins the Chaos War.

The story, I would consider to be a building up immense destruction. Although the main story is only a five-issue run, there will be plenty of one-shots and limited-series connected to the Chaos War, such as Dead Avengers, Alpha Flight, and Dead X-Men. It will be interesting to see how it all ties together. However, the story itself revolves around the re-building of Hercules’ character and the convincing of all other heroes that he is not the imbecile he once was. That’s fine. It was done well. However, I felt a lot of filler in the story, such as an unnecessary battle with other gods. Although I can understand they were added for showing us the severity of the Chaos King – we did not need the mini side-plot.

Khoi Pham’s art though, should not be over-shadowed. Great detailing with Hercules, as well as Nightmare’s realm, really stood out as two unique points in the book. Nightmare’s realm being a disaster zone with death and chaos, was greatly drawn and I could personally feel the horror within the realm. And with Hercules, his body, his face, everything was immensely detailed and clearly displayed. Why I only say Hercules is because I felt as if the rest of the characters were somewhat thrown into the story at the last second. Once panel shows all the heroes flying upwards to Nightmare’s realm, and it is clear that only Hercules had the most attention put on him. I digress. . .

Chaos War will be an immensely popular series, I’m sure. It involves most of the Marvel U and is argued to be better than the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Where this will take us, I do not know. But I am interested to see how it will be executed.

Grade: 6.5/10

And Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, eh?

Keep on Space Truckin’.

Classic Comic Fridays: The Mighty Thor #338

I figure that I’ll start doing something a little different. Every week, I’ll review a classic comic from my collection at random. Simple as that.

This week, I’ll kick off with the second appearance of Beta Ray Bill, Thor #338 from December of 1983, back when Jim Shooter was the EiC of Marvel. The art and story was also done by Walter Simonson, where he did Thor’s run from issue 337-367. Thor #337 was the issue which introduced Beta Ray Bill, meaning Simonson created him.

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What intrigues me most about this issue is that we finally see someone who is not god-like, nor Asgardian, take on Thor. On top of that, we learn that Beta Ray Bill is Thor’s equal. In issue 337, Bill steals Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer for its power (which until Bill, could only be lifted by Thor), and by issue 338, he is teleported to Asgard via the hammer by Odin.

Odin, confused on how Bill holds Thor’s hammer, summons Thor back to Asgard to discuss Bill’s appearance and why Bill wishes to have Mjolnir. Bill explains how his race was dying and needed to leave their galaxy for fear of death. In doing so, his race’s scientists bio-engineered Bill and merged him with the most ferocious carnivore of their empire, so that he may lead their exodus. With his warship the Skuttlebutt, he must save his race from alien invaders. Since Bill bested Thor in battle (by stealing the hammer in the previous issue), he believes he should wield the hammer to save his people.

By all means, Bill is not shown to a man with bad intentions, nor a villain of any sort. He just wants to save his people. Because Mjolnir finds Bill worthy to wield it and Bill believes he deserves the hammer since he took it from Thor, Odin decides that they duel to the death for Mjolnir.

Odin strips both men of their powers and sent them off-world so neither have an advantage. Both warriors fight equal blows with each strike. Their final blow knocks both unconscious on a rock bed riding down a lava lake, soon to be thrown down a waterfall of lava.

Bill awakens first and sees Thor still knocked-out. Being a noble man, Bill feels Thor is too brave to perish and instead tries to lift him to safety, only to be too-late and thrown down the waterfall. Falling, Odin teleports them back to his throne room for Bill to state at the books conclusion, “The hammer is mine!”

The story itself is wonderfully paced, especially for introducing a new character. Simonson makes Bill not just a worthy opponent for Thor, but a just one. Bill’s main drive is to fight off invaders from his people and just requires a weapon to defeat them. However, I did neglect the extremely minor side story involving the Warrior’s Three during the epic battle. Although it did not throw off the pace at all, it shows Simonson’s flawless transitions between stories.

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Simonson was considered to be the savior of Thor comics at the time for not just introducing Bill, but for great dialogue, and exposing emotions and truths behind characters. Mixed in with his powerful art, Simonson had great imaginative ideas to play with – generating a new race, a new hero, and a brilliant plot point involving one of Marvel’s greatest heroes.

When I look back at other issues from the eighties, I seem to find them lacking substance. They involve characters which seem to get dumb-downed to reach a larger audience. In Thor, we have intellect, mixed in with powerful morals, as well as an enemy we cannot hate. Arguably advanced for its target-market, this issue was a powerful indication that Thor is not the only major power in the universe.

By the next issue, Odin creates “Stormbreaker,” a hammer equal to Mjolnir, and gives it to Bill for being noble by saving Thor. Both Thor and Bill become blood brothers, and help one another in their most desperate times of need. Recently, Bill arrived to Asgard during the Secret Invasion – saving Thor from the Skrulls showing us that blood brothers stretch beyond realms.

Grade: 8/10

Keep on Space Truckin’.