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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 227: Uncanny X-Men #135

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 #135, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1980. Enjoy!

DRAMA!

So many people who read comics have read this issue, I’m not really sure if there’s much to say about this first page. It’s a nice splash page, isn’t it? Claremont begins with his usual hyperbole – “Witness the birth of a god!” – and continues by introducing us to Jean Grey – “a young woman of extraordinary beauty, strength, courage, passion.” It’s telling, I think, that he lists “beauty” first – is he acknowledging that until Phoenix, Jean was just the pretty one of the team and was basically the object of desire of at least five (?) X-Men that I can think of? Is Claremont subtly condemning that characterization, because it’s obvious that Jean is now the most powerful creature on Earth, if not the galaxy? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it. Most female characters in comics (and in fiction generally) are defined first and foremost by their looks. So even though Jean has “strength” and “courage” and is a “super-powered mutant telepath/telekinetic,” all we really care about is whether she’s hot or not. Claremont, however, knows how to begin a story. This makes us curious and then gives us some particulars. That’s not bad.

The page is impressive artistically but for one thing: the X-Men’s “skycraft” is kind of goofy. We see it lengthwise in the previous issue, and it kind of looks like a monorail car, which isn’t terribly dramatic. So as the center of this page, it kind of draws attention to itself as a goofy design. At least Byrne makes its destruction dramatic, but he probably could have designed a better flying machine for the X-Men. Either way, the page is beautiful – Byrne does a nice job incorporating the issue’s title into the explosion, and he doesn’t just show the explosion in some random space, as he shows us very clearly that we’re over Central Park. Byrne does a good job showing that the “skycraft” isn’t necessarily exploding – much of it is still solid – even though it’s shaking apart. It brings some intrigue into the page – what exactly is going on? Claremont’s “witness the birth of a god!” isn’t much help, but it’s a place to start. The fact that it seems like an explosion is lighting up the sky but the object at the center isn’t actually exploding makes us wonder what’s going on. Of course, Jean becoming Phoenix causes a huge release of energy that destroys the “skycraft” without blowing it up, something Byrne shows very well, but we don’t know that just from this page. The mystery should be enough to get us to read on!

Bob Sharen does an excellent job with coloring this page. Byrne did the letters, but Sharen did a fine job incorporating the dark red of Evil Phoenix’s costume into the lettering while keeping the entire page anchored in yellow and blue, which is always a fine contrast in comics. Sharen makes the letters look much more kinetic, too, smearing the colors well so that they seem to flow outward toward the borders. The fact that the buildings are orange implies that it’s nighttime in Manhattan, but also that Phoenix’s energy is affecting the entire cityscape as well. This is also indicated by the rays of light cutting through the green in the park. Sharen’s colors go a long way to creating the effect of energy exploding outward from the center of the page.

Claremont and Byrne only had a few more issue of X-Men to go before their partnership fell apart. We’ll see one more of those, but which one? You’ll have to stop by tomorrow to find out! Ease into it by spending some time in the archives!

8 Comments

Apparently gods are birthed by writing their own name in the sky. Nobody said gods didn’t have a healthy ego.

I’m actually not all that into this splash page. I’m fond of Byrne’s work on this run in general, but I just expect more than big explosions and skywriting.

It’s interesting about the beauty first bit. I’ve been doing writeups of all of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman run on my blog lately ( http://theidiolect.com/comics/ ), and one thing I’ve been thinking about but haven’t really written about is how often people comment on Diana’s beauty. It happens a lot, but in Diana’s case it’s a little different, because the beauty of Aphrodite is actually one of her superpowers, or at least it was back then. There isn’t that particular excuse with Jean, but it’s certainly true that she had all the guys tripping over themselves to get to her back in the early days of the X-Men. That said, yeah, I think Claremont’s purple prose reinforces rather than undermines that typecasting.

Haven’t been able to comment recently Greg but your work on these great Claremont/Byrne collaborations has been superlative and informative, plus there’s the fantastic subject matter! Today’s is just such a fantastic example, that opening page is one of my favourites paricularlythe explosive lettering and Chris C going bughouse with the portentous description and of course Byrne was then The Man :-). Clatemont’s word-picture of Jean is perhaps odd but as much as I like much of the later ’80s Uncanny Chris’s altered vetsion of Storm becomes insufferable as he writes her ad “the bestest” yet Wolverine too becomes Mr Perfect, so thete’s that, I guess. I got kinda sick of Ororo being describef ad the most beautiful or portrayed as nigh-on perfect, Chris’s version of feminism doesn’t allow for much actual *real humanity* while Prof X and Cyclops often get the pooey end of the stick (reminds me of Whedon’s treatment of Giles and Xander!). It’s a pity that Claremont’s truly good intentuons sometimed led to creepiness, tho’ I liked Jean, Rachel, Dazzler, and Betsy (before the Ninja stuff). Good wprk, again sorry for the typos, that’s “how I roll” apparently!

Hal: Claremont definitely had his favorites, and Jean and Ororo were two of them. I can’t give him too much grief, but I do find it interesting that so many people were so in love with Jean, even before Claremont starting writing the book!

As always, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series!

One of the funny things about the issue a few after this one (138, where Cyclops leaves) is that Cyke is remembering when Jean came to the school (as the last student, I think), and all the guys are gaga over her…

…except Bobby, who sez something like “Who cares?”. Brian’s writeup of Bobby in the CBR Board for the top 50 XMen explains why that’s extra funny.

But wait, I see that if this issue is 135, Dark Phoenix dies in 137…holy shit, that’s a lot of shit going on in just a few issues! I’ve read the collection of Days of Future Past (right after that stuff), and I was impressed with how MUCH happens in each issue. Even accounting for Claremont’s verbosity, there’s a ton going on. Way cool.

Since Byrne was plotting the issues, it doesn’t surprise me that there was a lot of stuff going on in them; thats one of his staples.

Incidentally, this page was my introduction to X-Men. Not a bad place to start.
And indeed much of the impact lies on colorist here, Byrne has a good page design but on his own is pretty low key here.

This was my introduction as well – I remember seeing the cover on the stands in my local comics store and seeing the cover, and thinking “I have to see what’s up with that.”

And that’s what happens when you edit a post, but not carefully enough.

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