Roundtable Review: X-Men Forever Annual #1
Caleb: Okay, so we're reading the Chris Claremont "X-Men Forever" annual, yes?
David: <David reads the Claremont annual in a panel> CAP: "David reads the Claremont annual!" DAVID (THOUGHT): "This is an exciting Claremont annual!"
Chris: Clearly, David has read a Claremont script. Do we want to do a catch-up? Because it's pretty easy to sum up. Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men for 16 years, and then left, and when he came back, it was Not Very Good, which he claims is largely because he had to deal with stuff that other writers had brought in. Thus, "X-Men Forever," which picks up where he left off in 1991, basically gives him a chance to do the franchise exactly how he always wanted.
Chris: I gotta say, if Marvel owes anybody, it's Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Chris Claremont. Claremont (along with John Byrne, Dave Cockrum and Len Wein) not only saved the X-Men from obscurity, but he was the driving force behind making it probably the most successful property Marvel has ever had, and redefining the entire company around it. So if their retirement plan for Claremont is giving him his own personal non-continuity book to screw around with, I'm totally okay with that. That said, boy howdy, we sure do have some sexy bondage on Page 1, don't we?
Laura: Yes, totally unexpected sexy bondage from Sana Takeda, the artist who brought us "Heroes for Hire" #13.
Chris: Hey, it's not all Takeda. Read enough Claremont and you'll start to see a pattern developing that tends to include trussed-up heroines. I mean, it's not quite Byrne's fixation on barely legal redheads, but...
Laura: They're a bondage superteam made in heaven!
Caleb: When I was a kid I thought "bondage" meant actual slavery, so whenever they'd make a joke on a sitcom I'd feel sad.
Chris: For our readers who haven't seen it or don't remember, it was... Well, I mean, there's no getting around it. It was a tentacle rape cover with Black Cat, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing. But bondage aside -- and it's nowhere near as bad here as it is on that "Heroes For Hire" cover -- I actually like Takeda a lot, and she really fits the book. I mean, you could do a hell of a lot worse picking artists to draw Wolverine and Phoenix's Bikini Bondage Romp.
David: That's really true, and she's grown a lot since her early Ms. Marvel work.
Laura: I mean, it's possible she learned something from the great "Heroes for Hire" tentacle rape uproar of 2007. Jean doesn't appear to be crying openly and nothing prehensile is fondling her. So that's a plus.
Chris: I like that this issue opens with "Some time ago," which makes it impossible to figure out when in the weird 2010-but-really-1993-on-Earth-Chris-Claremont timeline this is meant to be happening. An Page 1 ends with a truly clasic 'Montism: "It's a mix of science and magic. One to subvert our MINDS... the other, our SOULS!" That... that's basically the same thing there, Jeannie.
David: Is it really, Chris, in a world with empirically provable magic? Maybe the soul IS in the heart.
Laura: I believe that Deee-Lite would disagree, David.
Chris: There's a lot of subverting going on here is what I'm saying. You've got your magic subversion, your science subversion, and -- for the body -- your really-friggin'-heavy-chain subversion.
Laura: I'm about to get nerdy, but... Jean's talking about The Hand when she says, "This has to be what these villains did to Betsy, months ago, when they remade her body, and tried to do the same thing with her soul." Except that Psylocke was found by the Hand AFTER her body had gone through the Siege Perilous. I guess she's partly referring to her mental conditioning by the Hand afterwards, but I think the remaking of her body was 100% Siege Perilous.
Chris: Psylocke should really get a tattoo that says that. "100% SIEGE PERILOUS." Like a tramp stamp.
Chris: See, this is why it's hard to talk about the X-Men. Because sooner or later, something ends up involving the Siege Perilous or Australia or the Shi'ar.
David: Reading Claremont's original run seems, to me, to be one gigantic Siege Perilous.
Chris: True: It will transform you... if it doesn't destroy you first.
David: In any case, what I love about the first page with Nick Fury is that it's basically spending God knows how many word balloons to establish this annual's place in continuity with titles released twenty years ago.
Laura: Also, does anyone remember why Xavier was magically paralyzed again?
Chris: No. There are so, so many things that could use footnotes, and then there actually are footnotes on the most inconsequential things. And they're vague. The footnote on Page 3 is basically "*Oh yeah, that happpened!"
Laura: Is Cyclops in charge of the X-Men here?
David: I think he's in his "leading the strike team but still taking orders from Xavier" phase.
Laura: Because he totally shuts down Nick Fury, tells Jean to psychically shut it, says they're not going to do his stupid mission, and stalks off while the call is still live like that's that. While Xavier is sitting right there.
Chris: And yet everyone just does what they were going to do anyway. The fact that the issue doesn't end there is basically everyone going "ha ha f--k you Cyclops you suck."
David: Then again, modern Cyclops would have responded by going "EAT SH-T, OLD MAN!" and optic beaming the TV. And then holding Jean's relatives hostage and threatening to shoot them if she went.
Caleb: It's nice to see he doesn't blow a hole through the wall on his way out, though.
Laura: I also like how Fury is like, "Wolverine, Jean, we need you guys to go in and scope things out." And then just in case the crack team didn't know what he meant: "Your job is RECONNAISSANCE."
Caleb: He reads like a video game mission. Like Metal Gear Solid on the NES. Or just Metal Gear.
Chris: Nick Fury is totally their DM. "Okay, you guys are in a tavern when a curious man approaches you..."
David: Thinking of this as Metal Gear just made it way more awesome. THERE'S an X-Men game. Wolverine infiltrating a place, Fury on the comlink...
Chris: I'm pretty sure that was that Woolverine game for XBox that Larry Hama wrote. Except less sneaking and more wearing your Frank Quitely jacket and stabbing dudes.
David: Please tell me it was called Woolverine, and featured a sheep Wolverine from the Spider-Ham universe.
Laura: In the last panel on page six, are Wolverine and Jean having the same thought in unison? Also, Xavier is looking at Jean kinda creepy. Like he's imagining her brain naked.
David: He's planning his revenge on Wolverine for getting to take Jean on a sexy vacation.
Chris: Laura, it has become clear that, as a woman, you do not understand romance the way Chris Claremont does. Having the same thought means they're so N'Sync. Also we have been talking about this for 35 minutes and we are on page 4.
Chris: Okay, here's where this issue goes off the rails: Jean loses her telepathy on the island and NOBODY CARES. Isn't her telepathy THE ENTIRE REASON JEAN WAS SENT TO THE ISLAND? Remember that? FROM TWO PAGES AGO?
David: Doesn't S.H.I.E.L.D. have psi-scanners? Would they not notice it was a psychic dead zone?
Laura: "The grounds are covered by surveillance galore, and the staff all wear AV 'wires.'"
David: AV "wires." Wow, "wires"! And yeah, I had to flip back and forth a few times wondering if I missed a page. The absolutely nonchalant way she announces that she's 100% powerless on this island is amazing.
Laura: Also, don't telepaths usually completely lose their sh-t when their telepathy disappears? Because Jean's response is to put flowers in her hair and go swimming.
David: Her face is "this is the greatest moment of my life", and her voice is "I could die any moment and I have no idea or defense!"
Chris: I mean, it's great that she's having a good time and she's on vacation, but she's not REALLY on vacation, is she? She's there on a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. mission to see if something's up. So when she gets off the plane and her super-powers are gone, shouldn't she go "Yep. Something's up." Instead, she wants to have Sexy Bikini Time with Wolverine -- which I can understand, look at that handsome GQ bastard frolicking in the surf -- and would be fine, except that S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to deal with Fate Of The World type problems.
David: Also, why can't they contact anyone at home? Didn't they think to set up like a clandestine phone call drop or something? Like, does nobody else here use a cellphone?
Jason: No, they all use AV "wires." This is clearly established.
Chris: Also, did I miss something, or is it ever actually revealed why Jean's telepathy was completely blocked? Was that part of the Science Magic Soul-Mind Subversion machine?
David: I'm starting to think Jean's telepathy was blocked because the issue was finished and then an assistant editor asked "why doesn't Jean just use her telepathy to call for help?"
Laura: It's the equivalent of the modern horror movie schtick where they constantly have to explain why the kids don't just call 911 on their cell phones. NO SIGNAL.
David: Maybe this is totally just me, but why the hell is Wolverine so tall?
Chris: Jean's 4'9". Read your OHOTMU sometime, Dave. Also because it's hard to have a romance with a guy who's a foot shorter than you and reeks of Molson Ice and Canadian Bacon.
Laura: Wait. Wait. Wait a minute. This is actual narration text: "The bulk of the work falls to Logan. She provides suitable eye candy for the locals and tourists, while he goes wandering."
Caleb: That's some Stephenie Meyer sh-t there. Leave the lady'n to the lady. Walking around an island looking at stuff is man's work.
Laura: I guess what we've learned here is that without her telepathy, Jean Grey's only redeeming quality as an X-Man is her slammin' bod.
Chris: Also, Jean isn't just a prop in the investigation, she's a prop for the Hand's plot! They don't want her, they just want to "transform not only him... but also the woman he loves!" She's stripped of her powers and then defined purely as a lust object on both sides.
David: "You're STARING." "I'm a GUY -- it's what we DO." Sexual politics of this issue: incredibly questionable. Hell, this page alone.
Chris: Sexual politics of the past 35 years of Chris Claremont's scripts: incredibly questionable.
Jason: Oh man, I don't know if you guys are to the kiss yet, but it is the most disturbing depiction of eyeballs. Both of them look like they have lazy eyes.
Chris: When Wolverine and Jean finally kiss -- because you knew from the cover that's where this was going -- she looks less shocked and more like she's really bored by whatever's over his right shoulder. Like I said, I generally do like Takeda, but this is the least convincing kiss since "Attack of the Clones."
Laura: Possibly because both of their mouths disappear? Also, I think it's a huge injustice -- AND some Stephenie Meyer B.S. -- that they immediately fast forward from the Hand appearing to Jean and Wolverine tied up like it ain't no thing to take down Wolverine.
Chris: No joke, Laura. This is an issue where Wolverine and Jean Grey fight the Hand, and Wolverine fights a grand total of zero ninjas. Takeda does do a really great job with the crashing surf and all the ninjas and Jean looking all foxy, but seriously? What the hell comic is this where Wolverine can't fight off a hundred ninjas? That's all that dude did in the '80s. In any other comic, the next page would've been him cleaning dissolving green chunks off his claws going "We have to find out who sent these ninjas after us!"
Caleb: I've found the line of the book. The ultimate personification of Mont'n it up: "When my blades cut you, you'll bleed -- and then you'll scream!" Not only is he teaching us, the readers, how blades work, but also describing the panel through dialogue.
David: Murderous Psylocke is pretty funny. Just randomly in the middle of a fight. "Wish I could totally slice these assholes open!"
Chris: And now the truly ridiculous stuff starts to come faster and faster. Like Nightcrawler punching through a stone wall. Because, you know. Also, can I just say how absolutely hilarious it was that Wolverine just straight punched out his teen girl sidekicks? Just -- WHAM! Down goes Kitty. WHAM! There's one for you, Jubilee!
Laura: "Kurt, something's just happened to Kitty!" Something? You're not sure what? Because we all just watched her get clocked in the face by Wolverine's fist.
Chris: Also, I love that Kitty gets an ">oh!<" when Takeda draws him just punching the HELL out of her.
Jason: I really like that Kitty undoes the mind control by actually doing something in the actual world, but it's set up so that it looks like this big love victory on Jean's part. Like, I wonder if that's even a mistake: the emotional bond does not actually win the day. It just distracts him. But no one mentions it.
David: Sentences I never thought I'd say: Wolverine possessed by the Hand and forced to fight his friends? Mark Millar did it better.
Caleb: It's also great to see the team assembled at the end, and everyone is smiling in their bandages like Wolverine beats them regularly.
Caleb: The final bit is great too. "Want a lift home?" Nah, we want to bone down on this here beach for awhile.
Laura: Look at Kurt's smile right after that. He totally knows they want to bone.
David: Kurt's depressing life: recognizing when other people want to bone.
Chris: Exactly how are they going to make their own way home? They're on an island that, from the looks of things, was made and staffed by AV Wire-wearing waitresses just so that the Hand could recruit Wolverine and also build their machine that blocks out the Phoenix's powers -- which makes absolutely no sense -- and they just killed everybody. Are they going to build a boat out of ninja corpses? Is this the prelude to Tales of the Black Freighter: Wolverine and Phoenix Edition?
Laura: Also I like how the other X-Men were the only professionals involved here, and decided to actually look into it when no one could contact Jean and Wolverine, who were too busy tanning to care.
Chris: Yeah, at least somebody was worried about Jean not having her telepathy. I bet Cyclops was so worried he blasted a hole in every wall. Also, Wolverine's line "you read minds, I read bodies" -- that's like half a step below "Are those space pants?" I bet if they went to an island and something was removing Wolverine's ability to read bodies, he would flip the f--k out.
Chris: Anything else about the Mont here?
David: He's a dude who does his thing, and he's got fans who love his thing, and they're all happy together.
Chris: It's not just me though, right? Nothing makes sense in this issue?
David: No, it's pretty much a series of discrete events strung together by very thin narrative tape.
Caleb: His writing reminds me of the way I played with action figures as a kid. Like, stuff just happens.
David: You had action figures flirt on the beach for ten pages while making cryptosexist comments?
Chris: How did S.H.I.E.L.D. know that the Hand was setting this up? And if they did, why did they send the exact two people that they were setting a trap for? Why doesn't anyone from S.H.I.E.L.D. show up at the end? There's seriously no reason for them to have sent the X-Men. It's not even a "Mutant Problem." It's the Hand. And also some scientists, which I don't know that the Hand has ever worked with before. Seriously, does that sound like the problem you send Wolverine and Jean Grey to take care of, or the problem you send Elektra to take care of?
Chris: Also! They're COMPLETELY INEFFECTIVE! WOLVERINE AND PHOENIX ARE RESCUED BY JUBILEE. I just don't get this issue. It's generally well-drawn, but... why? Why is any of this happening? Why is this the genesis of Wolverine and Jean's relationship? Was this really the best story to illustrate the relationship of these two characters?
David: Especially considering Wolverine is dead in "X-Men Forever," isn't he? Like, isn't this whole issue just Jean reminiscing about a dead dude?