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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 226: Uncanny X-Men #128

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Chris Claremont and John Byrne! Today’s page is from Uncanny X-Men #128, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated December 1979. Enjoy!

Check out those pants!

Claremont goes a bit crazy with the purple prose on this first page if issue #128, but I suppose that compared to some of his writing, this is restrained. The first line is great – “Ever hear a city scream?” – but then he goes on to describe the city screaming, and it’s all right, I guess, but I’m not sure how necessary it is. He could even get away with the second line – “Not just the people, but the city itself” – but his excessive description of Edinburgh robs Byrne’s weird, surreal drawing of a tiny bit of its power. At least we know what Proteus is doing, right? His final caption box is fine, too – we find out we’re in Edinburgh and that the dude’s name is Proteus. I know that criticizing Claremont for excessively florid writing is like criticizing water for being wet, but I still don’t think he needed all of that. Still, he does set the scene pretty well.

Byrne’s drawing is amazing, though. He does a marvelous job making the buildings still look like stone and concrete while making them sickeningly fluid, and the way pieces of them are breaking off is a nice touch, implying that reality is breaking down even more than we thought. Proteus appears to be standing on liquid mercury, which helps make the scene even more alien. Claremont and Orzechowski place the caption boxes in good places, because we’re forced to pass over Proteus as we read, which makes us linger on him, and the final box helps direct our attention to the suddenly fluid ground. The buildings bend in nicely, both framing Proteus and looming threateningly over the people out on the street. Proteus and Moira are the centerpiece of the page, of course, and Byrne does a good job with them. Check out Proteus’ stylish jacket and flared pants – he’s ready for the Scottish disco! Byrne gives him a creepy smile, punctuated beautifully by Wein’s eerie red eyes, and you’ll notice that Austin’s inks are much lighter than DeZuniga’s yesterday – Proteus’ face looks like a “classic Byrne face.” Byrne makes him much taller than Moira – she’s not particularly short, so Byrne is making Proteus’ host larger than “normal,” giving him a more imposing stature. He does a good job with Moira, too – she’s not just a passive hostage, as she’s struggling desperately to get out of Proteus’ grasp. The fact that Proteus needs to possess hosts – in this case, it appears he went with “creepy aging bachelor professor desperate to look younger so he can score with coeds” – allows Byrne to draw “regular” clothes on the villain, which makes him a bit more mundane and therefore scarier. Wein does a nice job on the page, too – she sticks to brighter yellow and orange for the buildings and blue for the ground, which is a classic color scheme, but then she colors the sky a sickly green, making the backdrop of the scene weirder and more disturbing. It’s a good blend of weirdness and standard superhero coloring, foreshadowing the entire issue.

This is really Claremont and Byrne firing on all cylinders (as they would for pretty much the rest of their run), so it’s not surprising it’s an effective first page. A bit verbose, maybe, but very effective!

Tomorrow we’ll check out some more X-Men comics. You know you want it! If you really don’t, you probably should skip the archives, because there are a lot of X-books lurking there!

12 Comments

This issue makes me crazy.

The very first issue of X-men I read was #127. Thanks to the perils of newstand distribution, as well as being 9 years old, I didn’t get my hands on another issue until #144. With a back issue budget limited by lawn mowing and skipping lunches, my back issue collection never matched up between the Death of Phoenix and the orphaned two-parter.

I didn’t read issue 128 until I picked up the Omnibus of this material in 2009, 30 years later.

Longest cliffhanger ever.

I’ve never noticed before, but it looks like the building on the left might have a sign that says, “Byrne” on it. We get what looks like a “why”, followed by “are-en-ee”. As often as I’ve seen that page, I’ve never noticed that.

I wonder if the verbosity of Claremont (and others of this era) is due in part to needing to feel like they’re actually DOING something. If they don’t have words on the page, it doesn’t look like they’re doing anything, in a way (and given the Marvel Method, they were necessarily doing much). I’m thinking too of those Stan and Jack or Stan and Steve pages where Stan self-referentially says something to the effect of “I’ll shut up so you can see these artists in action”.

Just spitballin’ here.

The creepiest thing has to be the fact that Proteus (Moira’s son) has possessed his father in this shot. Eww.

But it was a great storyline. I recall liking Cyclops a lot in this one.

Josh: Shoot, yeah, I forgot about that. That is pretty creepy.

Travis: It’s certainly possible. I know that some people still think that if there are no words on the page, the writer isn’t doing anything. It’s silly, but there it is. So that might have had something to do with it!

Benn: Yeah, I can see that. It wouldn’t be the first time an artist signed his work in a strange way!

I’ve always thought of this issue’s title as being “The Day Reality Went Wild,” like it says on the issue’s cover. I just noticed the first time that the story’s title is something completely different. Weird. That really is a hell of a page.

Travis, I agree, I’ve found the same explanation. I think Chris and Stan are absolute geniuses but I wish they could just write less. The purple prose is… not good.

All: Don’t forget Austin! They were more of a trio in some ways.

@Benn: Hiding his name or the penciller’s name in the background is kind of Terry Austin’s trademark. For example, it appears in the background of the first Superman vs Spider-Man giant sized crossover comic. Although Austin didn’t do main inks, he seems to have been given backgrounds.

Matthew Johnson

August 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

It’s a bit silly to criticize Claremont’s work in this period, since obviously it worked, but I wonder if a big problem of his was knowing where to stop: how much stronger would that page be if the only text was the first sentence? (Of course, that might have brought him afoul of Shooter’s “every is somebody’s first” dictum — but then all of the character probably recap the plot again on the next two pages.)

Just a minor nitpick here, but “Proteus appears to be standing on liquid mercury” has a bit of a redundancy. Mercury–the element, that is, not the planet–is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. (As a matter of fact, mercury melts at -37 degrees Fahrenheit so that even in the dead of winter in almost any part of the US, mercury is liquid. And the boiling point is over 674 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Yeah, but if he “appears to be standing on mercury,” it would sound like he’s on the closest planet to the sun.

Or a Ford….

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